Today, president Obama outlined his long-awaited strategy to deal with climate change, an array of ambitious goals including cutting carbon emissions, increasing usage of renewable power sources, and advancing efficiency in buildings and industry. He also called for American citizens to get more engaged in the fight against climate change, “Invest, divest, make yourself heard.”
350 PDX, the Portland, Oregon chapter of 350.org, an international grassroots campaign dedicated to solving the climate crisis, reacted to the President’s call for action. “We are very excited about the president’s plan. Already we have been working to highlight solutions locally that are responsible, both for our environment and our economy. With President Obama’s leadership, our nation has a new set of real, attainable goals to move forward towards a strong, clean energy economy,” responded 350 PDX organizer Kevin Fitzgerald. “As Portlanders who are committed to leaving a safe planet for future generations, we call upon our state to listen to our president and take bold action and immediately commit to shifting themselves away from stocks, bonds or investment funds that are tied to fossil fuels.”
Divestment from fossil fuels has long been seen as an ethical imperative, to build social pressure against fossil fuel companies’ continued extraction of carbon from the earth. Evidence is now growing that divestment is a smart choice in maintaining strong portfolios as well. Prior to the president’s speech, which called for the Environmental Protection Agency to set forth carbon emission regulations on existing power plants, stock prices for coal mining companies fell sharply.
In addition to promoting divestment from fossil fuels, 350 PDX is working to oppose planned coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest. In his speech today, President Obama says, “I’m calling for an end to public financing of new coal plants overseas.” In response, retired teacher and 350 PDX activist Bonnie McKinlay questions whether it makes sense for the Pacific Northwest to allow the transport of coal through the region. “Such transport is fraught with numerous health and environmental impacts and clearly doesn’t mesh with President Obama’s carbon reduction goals as defined in his speech today.”
According to Bill McKibben, one of the world’s leading Climate activists and founder of 350.org, the math is simple: we can emit roughly 500 more gigatons of carbon dioxide and remain below 2°Celsius of warming — anything more than that risks catastrophe for life on earth. The only problem? Burning the fossil fuel that industries now have in their reserves would result in emitting over 2,700 gigatons of carbon dioxide – five times that amount.
350.org is named after what scientists say is the safe upper limit of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, 350 parts per million. Our atmospheric concentration of CO2 recently passed the milestone of 400 parts per million and continues to rise at an alarming rate.
Oregon’s climate is already changing due to increased CO2 and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. The average annual temperature rose by 1.5°F over the last century and changes in snowpack, streamflows, and forest cover are already occurring. Oregon faces the economic and emergency preparedness challenges brought on by more frequent extreme weather events, floods and forest wildfires, reduced supply of stream water vital to its agriculture and hydroelectric power plants, and challenges brought about by a rising and more acidified sea.
“Our president just sounded the alarm and gave us some hope,” commented 350 PDX activist, scientist and mother Adriana Voss-Andreae. “If we want to keep our planet and our region safe for our children, we must keep fossil fuels such as coal in the ground and stop investing in the very companies that are devastating our climate.”