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Opinion

UWRF environmental club founder calls for action

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February 4, 2015

The science is conclusive: 97 percent of peer-reviewed scientific articles state climate change is caused by humans and greenhouse gas reductions must begin soon.

In many ways, scientific research is perfected by the devils advocate. Regarding climate change, that devil has run out of credible arguments. Debating the reality of climate change and its connection to humans is a waste of time. It’s time to start discussing how we can benefit from the economic shifts that will come with climate change.

In the next 35 years, every country on earth must play a large role in preventing the Earth’s temperature from rising 2 degrees Celsius. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the earth has warmed roughly 0.8 degrees Celsius. Strenuous and repetitive research has been done on the consequences of a 2 degree Celsius temperature increase.

Scientists from NASA, the agency that got us to the moon, which has publicly stated climate change is an immediate threat comparable to ISIS; the United Nations; the International Panel on Climate Change; both the Pope and the Dalai Lama; have all declared that we are at a point with very little time left to act, and that it is imperative we do so quickly.

80 percent reductions in 35 years. Climate change is not just an environmentalist’s issue: it’s a problem that will affect us all. To think we can set aside this issue for a future generation to deal with is absurd and irresponsible.

We have the ability to quantify our current petroleum consumption and the solutions for reducing our consumption. Likewise, we can project the consequences of our consumption. The overwhelming consensus is that if we increase the Earth’s temperature by 2 degrees Celsius–or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit–the end results will be far worse than even environmentalist thought not long ago.

There will be comprehensive famine and water shortages due to droughts; more frequent catastrophic coastal storms, and significant rises in sea level that will cause millions to migrate away from cities like Miami (where natural tides already cause flooding), New York City, and Washington D.C.

Most importantly, climate change will break its unnoticeable backbone into pieces far too small to pick up and put back together: the earth’s natural cycle.

In 2012, the Fossil Free divestment campaign was started by 350.org. Since the campaign started, thousands of divestment campaigns have sprouted to advocate for the divestment of fossil fuels, resulting in 23 universities, 69 churches, 37 municipalities, and 43 institutions pledging to divest from fossil fuels.

The number 350, in 350.org, stands for 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide. For a brief perspective, over the last 800,000 years, the fluctuations in co2 parts per million (ppm) has been between 180 and 300 ppm. James Hansen and his researchers at NASA concluded that “2 degrees of warming is a prescription for long-term disaster.”

Hansen resigned due to the inaction the U.S. has shown towards climate change and was arrested for civil disobedience in response to the inaction our most powerful leaders.

Last July, our ppm of co2 hit over 400 and is rising at a rate of 2.1 per year. After hearing that, did I think it might be a little late for anyone to do anything about it? Of course, but, the Environmental Corps of Sustainability (ECOS) was created, and concluding there was no chance for change was not an option. The science says we had a glimmer of hope; if we act soon, we could still prevent a 2 degree rise in Celsius and have a high quality of life similar to the one we live today.

The world can change in the blink of an eye, as our generation has seen with the birth of social media. Seven years ago, the iPhone was released. In many ways, I find it difficult to remember what it was like without a device similar to a computer in my pocket. ECOS and I want to have that exact feeling within the next decade when thinking about the use of fossil fuels.

As the founder of the Fossil Free Falcons (FFF) and ECOS, I’ll tell you there is one common mindset in every member: comprehensive action on combating climate change cannot begin soon enough.

As difficult as it is to comprehend, the fact is that the global community must reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. This is the only way to prevent the temperature from rising 2 degrees Celsius.

FFF turned into ECOS for one main reason: it doesn’t matter how environmentally conscious one is, all of us will continue to use fossil fuels until it is less expensive to use renewable resources. ECOS advocates for a systematic change that doesn’t create our energy from tar-sands or natural gas, but from renewable sources, such as solar or wind energy.

Since the fall semester of 2013, ECOS traveled to three events. The first was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for “Powershift,” a conference that had over 10,000 students learning about the direction of our energy industry. The second was in Washington D.C. for “XLdissent,” where 398 students were arrested for civil disobedience in front of the White House to show their dissent of the Keystone XL pipeline expansion. The most recent was to New York City, where the “People’s Climate March” happened with over 310,000 people marching through the streets of Manhattan from Central Park to the United Nations headquarters.

All because we have 35 years to decrease our carbon emissions by 2050.

FFF was started in the spring of 2013 to advocate for UW-River Falls to remove their investments, or to divest, from the worst 200 fossil fuel companies in the world, as rated by 350.org. UWRF has roughly $150,000 invested in oil and gas companies, not including the commingled mutual funds. This means UWRF supports and benefits from a growing fossil fuel economy, while the product produced is the cause of the climate crisis.

The federal government subsidizes oil and gas companies with over $600 billion every fiscal year, yet the renewable energy sector is wide open with no large corporations to point to as a staple of the green energy industry. Our nations policies and investments don’t correlate well with the certain direction of one of the most critical sectors of any economy: the energy sector.

Thirty-five years is a very short period of time for a revolution in energy sources. Modern culture runs on fossils fuels. Our culture is also quite driven by a materialistic need for the better. The great upside is that the technology to be carbon neutral and have our better materials at the same time is in our hands.

If done quickly, the solutions to climate change could become our advantage. Being on the forefront of manufacturing products that lead to climate change solutions could be the defining factor of the U.S. economy for decades to come. Instead of a couple thousand short term jobs thanks to the construction of a pipeline like Keystone XL, or the Sandpiper Pipeline in northern Minnesota, why not significantly invest in infrastructure that combats climate change and would create millions of jobs in return?

The fossil fuel companies’ profits and the humanitarian consequences could be analogous to the health of a money tree. The companies keep drilling the oil and hope it sips up every drop before the well dries out and no longer makes a profit, with no legal regard to the health of the consumer or producer.

Conversely, if I were to have a money tree, collecting the money until the tree dies would be my core business model. But, if I want my money tree to grow in its natural environment, a 2 degrees rise in global temperature would cause the tree to die at an earlier age than expected.

Consequently, the oil companies would continue to profit on the natural industrial cycle, while I suffer monetarily due to the earths changing natural climate.

ECOS isn’t exclusively about divestment, nor is it only about going to marches and conferences. Climate change is here to stay, as is ECOS. To truly make a difference, a vote, or a change to a more efficient light bulb or battery, won’t be enough. Neither will waiting for the evolution of our politics.

To have an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050, our generation must ignite a movement that partisanship cannot defeat; that defines our generation as the one who fought for the health of our planet and the quality of life for generations to come. ECOS is about a hope to be on the right side of the history books.

Research was contributed by Molly Kinney and Jack Haren.

Daniel Saunders is a student at UW-River Falls.