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Climate Justice: new hope for radical action on climate change

By Nick Meynen.

In the last two decades, momentum for action on climate change rose before 1997 (Kyoto Protocol), and before 2009 (Copenhagen Agreement) – followed by a sharp drop afterwards. The Copenhagen Agreement was such a disappointment that people lost hope. The fossil fuel industry stepped up efforts to create confusion in the public opinion, with the help of biased scientists and biased media.

But not everyone gave up. I saw Bill McKibben at probably the only hope-giving event in the whole Rio+20 conference: the unauthorized Occupy Rio youth-demonstration on the day our leaders came to sign a fataly flawed document. A month later he wrote an article that went so viral that it almost equals Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ in building up momentum. But Bill puts it much sharper.
“Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math”
boils down to 3 figures:
*2°C is the upper limit according to science. In the Copenhagen Agreement, 167 countries that emit more than 87 percent of the world’s carbon emissions have endorsed the two-degree target.
*Science also says we can put 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by mid-century and still have a reasonable hope of staying below two degrees. But at the present growth rate the 565-gigaton allowance will be finished in 16 years.
*The fossil fuel we’ve located and we’re currently planning to burn equals 2,795 gigaton of carbon dioxide: 5 times higher. So we’d have to keep 80 percent locked under the ground.
Leaving oil and coal and gas under the soil has been the claim of the Climate Justice movements since long and EJOLT is part of these movements. However, if you paid attention to the science and kept 80 percent of fossil fuels underground, you’d be writing off $20 trillion in assets. And if you take the fossil fuels out and burn them, you are increasing year after year the accumulated Ecological Debts (the climate change liabilities). That is the challenge we stand for.

A rapid deep change requires a movement with a clear enemy. Well, it’s called the fossil-fuel industry. They can dump their main waste, carbon dioxide, for free. That has to be stopped with a carbon tax. Is that politically impossible? We’ll see, but there are other things that WE can do. In the 1980s, a divestment campaign brought the Apartheid regime on its knees. It started in colleges in the US. Today, US colleges are starting to divest from fossil fuels and the media are picking it up – like in this front page article of The New York Times. The first college to divest was Unity College. In Harvard, students pushed a referendum through, voting to divest from fossil fuels. Students are taking action in hundreds of colleges. This won’t work if they do not persist and if their efforts don’t go global, as they did when people united all over the world to divest from South Africa during Apartheid. So we need to spread this message of hope, the message that we can actually do something. Please check the do the math tour, read the open letter from Solon, Bassey and McKibben to leaders in Doha or the latest World Bank report on climate change. And when COP18 in Doha fails to produce anything of the scale and urgency we need: be reminded that you can make a change.

The work of grass-root organisations like is very complementary to the work of others. In EJOLT, we support (and report on) the legal battle to implement the 19 billion $ fine on Chevron for damages in Ecuador and the court case against Shell for damages in Nigeria. EJOLT partners and collaborators are fighting against fracking for shale gas in Bulgaria and France. Other members of the EJOLT network are exposing the political and physical dirt from coalmining in South Africa. We shall soon publish a report on “Yasunizing the world”, how to support initiatives for leaving fossil fuels under the soil. We already have a podcast on why the oil should be left in the soil, a report on mining from an environmental justice perspective (with a case study on coal mining) and a report on legal avenues for environmental justice organisations to claim environmental liability. While we keep working on building our arsenal to fight this massive fossil fuel industry, you can help us in making these campaigns, articles and tools go viral.

It’s time to take of the gloves and fight them just like we fought against Apartheid or against the Tobacco industry. It’s time to paste pictures on petrol stations with pictures of the damages in the Ecuadorian Amazon, the Canadian Tar Sands and the Niger delta. It’s time to write your pension fund manager and ask why he still invests in the fossil fuel industry. And if he asks why and answers that there is little risk: send him this article (it’s usually a him).

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