McKibben: Holding Fossil Fuel Stock = Betting on Global Warming

Photograph by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

A coal-fired power station in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.

Environmental activist Bill McKibben is asking people, institutions and governments to divest holdings of fossil fuel companies in a bid to avert the worst impacts of climate change.

If companies and governments produce and burn all their reserves of coal and oil, temperatures will surpass a level many scientists say will trigger catastrophic climate change, McKibben said today in at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference in New York. Starving fossil fuel producers of capital, he said, is the best way to to ensure that carbon-dioxide producing fuels stay in the ground.

“If the fossil fuel companies and countries carry out these business plan as they are currently written then the planet will tank,” McKibben said. “Either we leave that stuff in the ground or the planet burns up. Those are our two choices.”

McKibben, who may be best known for helping to turn the once obscure Keystone XL pipeline into a high-stakes political battle, has been pressing the two-year-old divestment campaign through the group he founded, 350.org. The effort is targeting churches, schools and governments with a message that the morally right thing to do is stop funding fossil fuels.

“Anybody who’s investing in fossil fuels at this point is in essence making a bet, and what they’re betting is that the world will do nothing about climate change,” McKibben said. Cities such as Seattle, Washington, Portland, Oregon and Providence, Rhode Island have agreed to divest, he said.

The effort is getting a lift from floods, droughts and killer storms that are helping to raise public awareness of the risks of climate change.

“One of the things that lifts the consciousness around this issues is the excellent educational efforts of Mother nature year after year,” McKibben said. “Eighty percent of Americans live in a county that’s had a federally declared disaster in the last two years.”

See more from the Bloomberg conference here, here and here.

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