For the climate activists at 350.org, it didn't necessarily matter who won the election on Tuesday. Their post-election plan—long in the works—was to take direct aim at the fossil fuel industry. The group says quite frankly that to build the movement they believe is necessary, a very different kind of campaign is needed; one that takes the its cues from science and—in a very specific sense—mathematics.
"We're up against the most powerful industry in the history of the world," said co-founder Bill McKibben from Seattle ahead of the kick-off show, "But we’re playing to win."
The fact of the math, according to the group and best expressed in McKibben's recent Rolling Stone article called 'Global Warming's Terrifying New Math," is that there's more fossil fuels (nearly 2,230 gigatons more) that corporations want consumers to buy and burn than climate scientists says is safe to do if people want to live on a planet the climate-wse resembles the one we live on now.
Even the most conservative governments in the world have agreed that global warming should be limited to no more than 2°C. Scientists say to meet that target we can only emit an additional 565 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But the fossil fuel industry has 2795 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide in their reserves, nearly five times too much — and everyday they spend millions of dollars looking for more.
“What this math shows is that the fossil fuel industry is a rogue industry,” said McKibben. “You can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively healthy planet – but now that we know the numbers, it looks like you can’t have both.”
Because neither presidential candidate nor the major political parties have shown the sufficient sense of urgency demanded by the dangers of climate change, the environmental group decided to take its message directly to cities across the country in a 22 city US tour called 'Do The Math', which kicked off officially in Seattle on Wednesday night.
Part TED-talk, part old-time revival meeting, the tour has already sold out its first four west coasts stops and many on the east coast as well. With a focus on student involvement as part of a newly launched divestment campaign, the tour will also be making stops in big college towns like Madison, Wisconsin, Durham, North Carolina, and Boulder, Colorado.
In a video he recorded for the Do The Math tour, South Africa’s Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in the anti-apartheid movement, explained the rationale for turning to divestment as a key strategy to fight climate change.
“The divestment movement played a key role in helping liberate South Africa. The corporations understood the logics of money even when they weren’t swayed by the dictates of morality,” says Tutu. “Climate change is a deeply moral issue too, of course. Here in Africa we see the dreadful suffering of people from worsening drought, from rising food prices, from floods, even though they’ve done nothing to cause the situation. Once again, we can join together as a world and put pressure where it counts.”
Calling it "a rogue industry," McKibben says the world's biggest oil, coal, and gas companies poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the recent election and says the only way to counter-act their influence (and affluence) is for those who care about the current and future health of the plant "to get more creative, braver, and bolder than ever before."
Beginning the day after the election is intentional explained McKibben, “Congress has essentially turned into a customer service arm for the fossil fuel industry, putting environmentalists on hold for 20 years with the beltway equivalent of cheesy Muzak. It’s time to talk directly to management.”
Author and activist Naomi Klein—a board director of 350.org who will also appear in person or via video at each tour stop—writing in the direct aftermath of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, said that stepping up direct pressure on the corporations that are making climate change worse is an absolute necessity. "These companies have shown that they are willing to burn five times as much carbon as the most conservative estimates say is compatible with a livable planet. We’ve done the math, and we simply can’t let them."
"We find ourselves in a race against time," Klein continued. "Either this crisis will become an opportunity for an evolutionary leap, a holistic readjustment of our relationship with the natural world. Or it will become an opportunity for the biggest disaster capitalism free-for-all in human history, leaving the world even more brutally cleaved between winners and losers."
Founded in 2008, 350.org has organized international days of action urging world leaders to take serious the threat of global warming. And in 2011, 350.org helped lead a successful campaign to push President Obama to deny the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, getting 1,253 people arrested at the White House in August and then circling the property with 15,000 people in November.
“Over the last three years, we’ve learned a lot about how to use the internet to coordinate a distributed grassroots network,” said 350.org co-founder and executive director, May Boeve. “This year, we’ll be going at the fossil fuel industry from all angles: campus divestment, mass mobilization, and online campaigns.”
Speaking to the Seattle Times, McKibben described how the collapse two years ago of climate-change legislation revealed the deep and sinister influence of the fossil-fuel lobby over elected officials in Washington.
"It turns out Obama couldn't do it on his own," McKibben said. "The forces of the status quo were too strong. It demonstrates the tremendous power of these guys. It was going on behind the scenes. That's part of the reason we're doing this, to try to open up some space."