Divesting in Fossil Fuels

Saturday, April 27, 2013
12:48 A.M.

Seattle Mayor, Mike Mcginn stands in solidarity with students from University of Washington, and Seattle University for divestment! This photo was taken with permission from the “Divest University of Washington” Facebook group.

On Thursday night, I was cordially invited by a wonderful wonderful friend to come to a talk on climate change that was hosted in Bagley Hall on the Seattle UW campus. The talk was hosted by SAGE, which stands for the “Student Association for Green Environments.”

There were three principal presenters: Thomas Ackerman, Nick Bond, and Stephen Gardiner. I’ll give you a brief background on each of them and talk about their respective presentations.

Tom Ackerman

Tom Ackerman is the director for the Joint Institute for the Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO) and professor of atmospheric sciences at the UW who has done research related to clouds, radiation, remote sensing, and aerosols. For this presentation, he talked about climate change basics, such as the science behind the greenhouse effect, and also forayed into ocean acidification. I was already familiar with most of the diagrams he presented and phenomena he described, but it was a very interesting and well-laid-out talk nonetheless. One thing that stood out about his presentation is that he stressed that while certain meteorological events will become more or less frequent as the Earth warms, you cannot blame any single event on global warming. As an example, he explained how models currently predict there will be a slight decrease in the number of tropical cyclones in the Atlantic but an increase in their intensity, but reiterated that Hurricane Sandy was just a single storm and that you cannot base your future predictions off one event. I forget who came up with this metaphor, but somebody compared global warming and extreme weather events to steroids in baseball. A baseball player on the juice might hit a higher number of home runs, but you can’t blame any single home run on steroids. After the lecture, I introduced myself to him and learned that I will probably be taking one of his classes next year, so I’m excited for that.

Nick Bond

Nick Bond is the head honcho Washington State Climatologist and is also both a scientist working with JISAO and an affiliate associate atmospheric sciences professor at the University of Washington. His research covers a broad range of meteorological and climatological topics in the Pacific Northwest, and he also does some research relating the health of the marine ecosystems in the North Pacific to changes in global climate and ocean acidity. For his presentation, he posted PowerPoint slides containing two statements, and we were supposed to choose the one that was most correct. Some of them were trick questions in that both choices were correct. Mr. Bond was a great speaker and seemed like an awesome dude. I hope I get to spend more time with him in the future.

Stephen Gardiner

Stephen Gardiner is actually a professor for the Department of Philosophy at the UW and specializes in environmental ethics, particularly those related to climate change. He also holds the Ben Rabinowitz Endowed Professor in Human Dimensions of the Environment in the College of the Environment at the UW, so he is a very multidisciplinary man. His talk was on “The Ethics of Climate Change,” and he discussed the morality of emitting fossil fuels such as carbon dioxide to sustain our lifestyles as human beings. He believed that completely cutting off all fossil fuel emissions with no forewarning would be highly unethical, as we need fossil fuels to sustain our economy, grow food for the population, and keep the human race afloat. On the other hand, he stressed that continuing on the path we are going on right now is unethical as well because we are  not being good stewards of the Earth for future generations of not only humans but cheetahs/blue whales/cyanobacteria as well. One of the most thought-provoking things Gardiner said was that future generations will look back upon this one with disdain for not taking more action to mitigate climate change. I can’t remember if he gave any specific examples or not, but one example that immediately jumped into my mind was that of slavery. Two hundred years ago, we thought it was perfectly ok to own a person like they were a piece of property. Now, we look shamefully upon those who pushed for slavery, and anybody who still supports slavery today is nearly universally denounced as a racist and bigot. In two hundred years, will humans look shamefully upon the people who didn’t take steps to reduce their carbon emissions? Maybe not as strongly as those who supported slavery. Maybe more strongly. It’s an interesting topic to think about.

These three guys gave some very interesting talks, but honestly, the highlight of the evening was not their talks, nor was it an extended, intimate question-and-answer session with a panel consisting of the three guys above and three others: Michelle Koutnik (Ice and Glaciers), Jeffery Arnold (Army Corp of Engineers, Climate Change Adaptation, and Guillaume Mauger (Climate Imapcts Group: Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest).

The highlight was a brief presentation by some UW students about a new organization called Divest UW. Divest UW aims to reduce the economical power that oil companies have by calling upon universities’ endowments to divest from these companies and reinvest in funds that are more environmentally and socially responsible. More specifically, Divest UW calls upon the University of Washington to divest from the top 200 publicly-traded companies that own the majority of carbon reserves.

Divest UW has a Facebook page here. Much more about the organization can be found on the page. There’s not much point in just moaning and groaning about all the horrors of climate change (they may not be horrors now, but tell that to Bangladesh in 150 years); we have to do something. And Divest UW looks like a great opportunity to get involved in some sort of activism prompting a change in the way our society and economy work. I still have yet to go to a meeting, so that’s something that I need to do. I’d encourage anybody who goes to the UW and has any interest in divesting in these companies to come with me.

I hope to hear from some of you! Thanks for reading, and have a nice rest of the day/night/applicable time for your reading of this post.

Charlie

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