As part of this blog’s random and unending series of posts on climate science and global warming — see here and here — I have a few final words on the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate warming. Final? Yes, final…because consensus is nearing unity and the issue is settled. I only want to dwell briefly on the subject, just long enough to showcase two recent statements on climate change and fossil fuel use.
According to NASA’s global climate change website, 97% of climate scientists agree that “climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities…” Additionally, many leading scientific organizations have endorsed this position. In 2009, the American Association for the Advancement of Science reaffirmed its 2006 stance along with 18 other respected scientific organizations, concluding that anthropogenic global climate warming is underway and will continue to threaten human populations.
Now there are two more notable scientific organizations officially and publicly joining the consensus. On October 2, the Smithsonian Institution announced its “Official Climate Change Statement.” Their assessment acknowledges the global climate is warming because of human activities and meaningful action is urgently needed. The statement is good, but a little long. So I will post the first paragraph, which conveys the core message.
Rapid and long-lasting climate change is a topic of growing concern as the world looks to the future. Scientists, engineers and planners are seeking to understand the impact of new climate patterns, working to prepare our cities against the perils of rising storms and anticipating threats to our food, water supplies and national security. Scientific evidence has demonstrated that the global climate is warming as a result of increasing levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases generated by human activities. A pressing need exists for information that will improve our understanding of climate trends, determine the causes of the changes that are occurring and decrease the risks posed to humans and nature.
The carefully prepared statement emphasizes an urgent need for more information. This makes sense given the Smithsonian’s expertise in data collection, analysis, and education. The full statement, however, says very little (I’m being generous) of the urgent need for meaningful action on the major causes of the problem (i.e., burning fossil fuels).
The second announcement, however, is a bold move by the Union of Concerned Scientists to fully divest from fossil fuel companies. Divestment simply means giving up stocks, bonds, or other investments that are unethical or immoral. On September 18, Ken Kimmell, President of the UCS released the following statement to the media before the UN Climate Summit in New York City.
Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing humanity. To address global warming, we need to significantly reduce heat-trapping carbon emissions—and that means moving away from oil and coal now, and over time from natural gas. We encourage businesses, universities, nonprofits and other organization to divest from fossil fuel companies to help speed the advancement of clean energy to curb climate change.
UCS doesn’t have any direct investments in fossil fuel companies. Like many Americans, we invest in large managed index funds to reduce our financial risk. Our board investment committee has been working to move our resources into ‘sustainability funds’ and found that even those funds do not necessarily screen out all fossil fuel companies. As a result, fossil fuel companies accounted for less than 5 percent of our total investments before we began looking at divesting.
The UCS Board has directed our investment committee to determine how best to divest more fully from fossil fuels, and they have already begun moving a large portion of our investments into fossil free investments and will continue to do so. We are committed to continuing working with our investment committee to map our progress toward divestment on an annual basis.
This statement illustrates a reasoned response to an urgent threat; it suggests a reasonable path for transitioning away from fossil fuels. The transition will accelerate as more organizations and corporations begin to get rid of their harmful investments. More divestment, along with further progress on clean energy technologies, will change the flow of capital from fossil fuels toward clean, sustainable energy sources.
Several cool websites offer more details and advice on divesting. I stumbled on the eye-catching Fossil Free website. They are described as “…an international network of campaigns and campaigners working toward fossil fuel divestment in our communities.”
Fossil Free is a project of 350.org, which organizes campaigns and public actions through a vast global network. Remember their campaigns against the Keystone XL Pipeline Project? The name of the organization — 350 — is inspired by scientists’ recommendations to cut the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 400 parts per million to 350 ppm or less.
Dr. James Hansen, Former NASA Climatologist:
If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced … to at most 350 ppm.