Three figures were all author and environmental activist Bill McKibben needed to fuel his national roadshow. Do the Math, put together by McKibben, president and co-founder of 350.org, will follow up on McKibben’s breakthrough Rolling Stone article “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” in which he introduced the American public to three figures: 2 degrees Celsius, the maximum the average temperature of the planet can increase to prevent widespread catastrophes; 565 gigatons, the estimated amount of carbon dioxide humans can add to the atmosphere to stay within the 2-degree Celsius limit; and 2,795 gigatons, the amount of carbon in proven coal, oil and gas reserves waiting to be burned as fossil fuels.
McKibben says he hopes to use stops in 21 cities across the nation to engage students and community members in taking on the fossil fuel industry. Along with him, a cast of artists, actors and musicians has also committed to appear via video.
“I’m kind of used to going in and giving different speeches, but this [Do the Math talk] is going to be different,” McKibben says. “I’ll be talking, there will be lots of music and video, and other people joining in, and it’s more kind of an organizing event.”
The action McKibben is organizing people around is divestment, a strategy of pressuring governments and industries to change by getting local organizations like universities, churches and pension funds to stop investing in them. The method is credited with pushing the South African government to end apartheid.
McKibben says he hopes that divestment strategy, along with the math and figures he introduced in the Rolling Stone article, will have the same effect on the climate crisis.
“Part of it will just be making sure that everybody has that math well in hand, and partly it will be trying to launch the divestment campaign, and I kind of talk about it a little bit in that article, but now it’s real,” he says. “We’re going to really try and get colleges, churches and everybody else hard at work, making their money do the same thing that their heart and mind want to.”
“Divestment is a very powerful tool in the world of social change for a very long time and we’re really grateful that Bill McKibben and 350 are pursuing divestment,” says Leslie Glustrom, the director of research and policy at Clean Energy Action, a local group advocating for decreased fossil fuel use. “It’s unconscionable at this point to invest our money with companies that are dedicated to adding more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, along with other pollutants.”
While it is important for people to take actions to help with climate change in their individual lives, Glustrom says, that’s not nearly enough given the size of the problem.
“This is a problem of global scale, so we need to reach on a scale that matches the scale of the challenge,” she says. “And we can really only do that when we come together and work in teams to bring lower carbon solutions to our energy problems.”
The ‘Do the Math’ events include video appearances by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Kumi Naidoo and Naomi Klein, among other musicians, artists and actors. McKibben says that he hopes bringing in key people will emphasize the gravity of the message.
“I think it will just help show people what a big, worldwide, spread-out movement this is,” he says. “So we’ll have people chiming in from South Africa … The head of Greenpeace will join us from the bridge of his Greenpeace ship up above the Arctic Circle, and just people from every direction.”
On the state and local level, organizers from 350Colorado.org have been hard at work preparing for McKibben’s tour.
“We have different 350 teams across Colorado help get the word out across the state for a while,” says Micah Parkin, the Colorado and regional 350.org organizer. “We’ve also been working with various student-led organizers on their campuses who are starting to launch fossil fuel divestment campaigns.”
To involve and educate more young people about climate change, they’ve made 200 tickets available for students to attend the Do the Math tour event in Boulder.
“We felt like this is a really important opportunity to get the youth movement fired up and ready to launch the divestment campaigns in a really major way,” she says.
Do the Math will be held in the Glenn Miller Ballroom at 7 p.m. Dec. 2. The sold-out show will also feature Josh Fox, writer and director of the documentary Gasland. Visit www.350colorado.org for more information, or to get updates on a pending live streaming event.