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Will Fossil Fuel Divestment Be a Key Tactic in 2013 Battle over Climate Change?

Bill McKibben and Christian Parenti debate the effectiveness of a growing fossil fuel divestment campaign.

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AMY GOODMAN: Bill McKibben, your response?

BILL McKIBBEN: Well, look, I think Christian got it just right in his original article in  The Nation. He said this isn’t a complete strategy. And it’s not. Look, there’s no—this is the biggest problem we’ve ever faced, climate change, and there are lots of things that we have to do.

But this is a very powerful one. You know, when Nelson Mandela got out of prison, his first trip was—one of his first foreign trips was to the U.S. And he didn’t go to the White House; he went straight to the University of California to thank students there who had forced the divestment of $3 billion worth of stock in companies that did business with apartheid, big companies who you couldn’t put out of business, like General Electric, but that nonetheless felt the heat and made some change. The tobacco analogy is a good one. It’s not—I mean, Christian, I think, may have misspoke when he said that smoking went down when states banned the use of tobacco. No states banned the use of tobacco, but we did change the conversation in profound ways. And eventually, once public opinion leads, then states follow.

It’s, I’m afraid, at this point not a good idea to wait for our so-called leaders to lead on climate change. So far, they haven’t done it. But maybe we can open up, as Christian suggests, I think, some space for them to operate. If we can remove, to some degree, any degree, their fear of the fossil fuel industry, which after all was the biggest player in the last election campaign—I mean, if you’re an investor in a fossil fuel company, you’re helping them corrupt our democracy. If we can remove some of that fear, then maybe we will open up some more room for our champions.

By the way, this is not the only strategy we’re going after, that’s for sure. I hope everybody is well aware that on President’s Day weekend, the environmental movement—350.org and the Sierra Club have sort of been leading the organizing—are going to Washington for what will be the biggest environmental demonstration in a very long time, and it’s all about the climate legacy of this administration and continuing this fight on Keystone. As you know, the decision is coming up sometime in the course of the year, and it will be the purest test of whether Obama is going to side with the fossil fuel industry or with science. It’s a tough test and a tough fight, but I’m very glad that we have allies not only from people like Christian, but from young people all over the country. People—you know, people went through this long period of saying, "Oh, young people are apathetic about these issues. Why are they not in the street? Why are they not doing anything?" It’s really, really good to see them taking the lead. And as I say, it is them taking the lead; it’s not me, it’s not 350.org.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill, I want to ask you something, since you raised Keystone XL. Do you think the announcement by Lisa Jackson of her retirement or her resignation from Environmental Protection Agency is partly due to her opposition to moving forward with Keystone XL?

BILL McKIBBEN: I don’t know. Look, the Keystone thing has been, for me, sort of crazy from the beginning, Amy. The 20 most important climate scientists in the U.S. all wrote the president a letter saying this is not in the country’s national interest. Our most important climatologist, James Hansen, said if you burn all that tar sands oil on top of everything else that’s being burned, it’s game over for the climate. We have indigenous people from one end of the continent to the other now powerfully, in this Idle No More movement, pointing out that tar sands is a perfect example of the sort of exploitation they’ve had to live with for hundreds of years. There’s no reason to do this, except that it helps rich oil men. And I can’t, for the life of me, understand why it’s been so hard to block it. We’ve done everything we can think of. We were able to delay it for a year with the largest civil disobedience action in 30 years in this country. Let’s hope that we can keep the pressure on. That’s what this President’s Day thing is all about. And if you go to  350.org, you’ll see the—all the information you need about how to get there and be a part of it.

 
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