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Notes from a Small Planet, May 6th: Fossil Fuel Divestment

Basia Yoffe
May 5, 2013

by Basia Yoffe

AfricaAS I SOUGHT TO SHOW in the last edition of “Notes from a Small Planet” in Jewish Currents, transition to 100 percent renewable energy is viable, and the surest way to save the world from its ever-increasing carbon emissions. Peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals back this up. One study in particular by Peter and Schwartzman and David Schwartzman, 2011 found that with modest efficiency improvements in the developed world, and accounting for increase in energy needs of the developing world, a transition to 100 percent renewable energy could take place in twenty years with an energy investment of only one percent of current fossil fuel consumption annually.

Mark Z. Jacobson of Stanford University has recently unveiled a plan for New York, with one for California coming soon, to transition to 100 percent renewable energy. In a 2009 article in Scientific American, Jacobson and Mark Delucchi, described a plan to power the world with 100 percent renewable energy within 20 years. Jacobson states that the only real obstacles are social and political.

Our current power grid is not adequate, however, for the future these scientists envision. Climate change has already had an impact on our energy delivery: In less than two years there have been three major disruptions in the northeast; Hurricanes Sandy and Irene, and the early snow storm in October, 2011. The U.S. needs a less centralized grid — which would be compatible with renewable energy.

WE DON’T HAVE A LOT OF TIME. In his article last year in Rolling Stone, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” Bill McKibben made it clear and simple: We are having a difficult time dealing with a current 1 degree Centigrade rise. More than 2 degrees is really more than we can handle. We cannot burn more than 20 percent of our known reserves of fossil fuels and stay under 2 degrees Centigrade, but at the current rate of fossil fuel use we will exceed this limit in less than twenty years.

Fortunately, McKibben has a solution, and his been growing a mass protest movement of divestment from fossil fuel companies. Ten cities have voted to divest, and there are campaigns on 193 campuses in the U.S. Hopefully, this kind of economic pressure can do the job Washington is not doing. Together with the fact that even without subsidies, renewable energy is becoming more and more competitive with fossil fuels, may save us.

MELAS_DIVEST_18As an NYU alumna I feel an obligation to support the NYU divestment campaign. I’m at the far left (pardon the pun) in this picture from Washington Square Park. To read more about the NYU campaign, click here.

The following links describe the divestment campaign in cities and campuses. It may be a divestment campaign that all Jews can support.

A few more notes about our small planet:

1. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan which shares a border with Saudia Arabia is formulating a plan to deal with climate change. This may be something to take seriously.

2. A billionaire fund manager, Jeremy Grantham, is coming out publicly as an activist. He is using his foundation to fund green causes and has done extensive research personally to educate himself about the problem. This is noteworthy, as he has a reputation for predicting all the bubbles of recent decades and amassing a fortune doing so. Grantham sees carbon as the next big bubble, and sees renewable energy becoming competitive with fossil fuels even without subsidies. He predicts that tar sands oil and coal will become “stranded assets.”

3. The “Earth First Initiative” petition drive was brought to my attention by Nancy Denker, an alumna of Camp Hemshekh, who is seeking to accumulate 50,000 signatures by the end of May. Please make one of them yours!

4. Finally, an Springtime blog would not be complete without mention of the Gulf Oil spill. I learned of the spill three years ago while I was on my first hike of the Jewish Trail (the Appalachian Trail, from Eden Village Camp in New York to Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut) to raise awareness of environmental issues. BP ended up doing a much better job of raising environmental awareness — horribly so — than I could ever hope to raise. Now I am hiking again from Eden Village Camp to Isabella Freedman Jewish retreat center (74 miles), thinking of special people in my communities as well as the lives damaged by climate change-influenced disasters of the last three years. I will be back to blog after Shavuos.

Basia Yoffe conducts the “Notes from a Small Planet” column in Jewish Currents and is a member of our magazine’s editorial board.