Smoke from the Camp wildfire in Ukiah, California. (Photo: Bob Dass, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)
Harvard is one of the latest in a series of wealthy institutions around the world announcing steps towards pulling their investments in the fossil fuel industry. But Harvard’s announcement has been called too little, too late. Bill McKibben, author of “The End of Nature” and cofounder of 350.org, joins Host Steve Curwood to discuss Harvard’s announcement, and what the divestment movement has achieved so far. Also, why racial justice goes hand in hand with the fight for a cleaner environment, and the big takeaways that the coronavirus pandemic has for the climate crisis.
CURWOOD: When the establishment is slow to move on a social issue of fairness, campaigners sometimes advocate for the divestment of holdings in companies that they perceive as part of the problem. For years campaigners opposed to the apartheid regime of South Africa urged university and foundation endowments and other institutional investors to sell their stock in companies that did business with the white supremacist regime. And just as the pressure from the anti-apartheid divestment movement helped efforts to desegregate South Africa, nearly a decade of calls for the divestment of fossil fuel stocks to help address climate disruption seems to be having an effect as well. Many pension funds as well as university and college endowments have signed on. Some universities including Cornell and Georgetown have committed to full divestment within the next ten years, while others including Brown and the University of California system, have already pulled nearly all of their investments from fossil fuels. Now, Harvard University says it will take steps to join the divestment movement and be carbon neutral by 2050 as UN scientists have urged but critics say if Harvard waits until then to reduce its fossil fuel investments it’ll be far too late for the climate. Writer Bill McKibben is the award-winning author of the End of Nature and a co-founder of 350.org, and perhaps the most prominent leader in the fossil fuel divestment movement and he joins me now. Bill, welcome back to Living on Earth!
MCKIBBEN: Hello, Steve,
CURWOOD: Boy, how many years ago you wrote The End of Nature, 1989?
MCKIBBEN: That would be 31 years ago, Steve.
CURWOOD: Congratulations! And then fast forward to the moment where you start 350.org with some students from Middlebury College. How did this all come together?
MCKIBBEN: Well, you know, I spent those years after writing The End of Nature, writing more books and talking all the time about climate, thinking that we were engaged in an argument. It took me way too long to figure out that, really, we’d won the argument. We were just losing the fight because the fight wasn’t about data and reason, it was what fights are always about: money and power. And once I figured that out, we were going to have to take on the fossil fuel industry. We started trying to build movements because, you know, historically, that’s the only way to stand up to money and power on that scale. That 350 is was the kind of first iteration of the global climate movement. And now thank god we’ve got Extinction Rebellion and Sunrise Movement and climate striking kids all over the world and on and on and on.