This Changes Everything – 5 Opportunities to See it!

There are five screenings of the film based on Naomi Klein’s book, “This Changes Everything: Capitalism Versus the Climate” make sure to mark your calendar and come out and join us at one!

completelisting-TCE

 

See the 350VT Calendar!


Beth Sawin: three forces of change experienced in Paris and gratitude for them

Beth-Sawin-at-UMass-Lowell-Climate-Change-Solutions-for-the-Future-We-Need

Beth Sawin at UMass Lowell Climate Change Solutions for the Future We Need. Photo Credit: Climate Interactive

I’m home and I have read (well skimmed) the Paris Agreement and read lots of commentary from many smart people who have written about what the deal itself means, so I won’t add to that. (There’s a good easy to understand summary at Grist, by the way).

Instead my last ‘update from Paris’ is about .

1. Feedback. Healthy systems need timely and accurate feedback. Here our tiny Climate Interactive team has had a role since Copenhagen, a role I think we played well in Paris. The world didn’t close the emissions gap yesterday, but the gap is so clear now and so well understood that no one is leaving Paris thinking the work is over.

2. Goals. Systems steer toward goals. That’s why the inclusion of the 1.5°C goal is so important. The goal doesn’t itself change the world, our hard work and joyful collaboration does that. But the goal keeps us focused, it motivates, and 1.5 is a significant enough goal that it rules out the distractions of false and partial solutions.

3. Beliefs. About ourselves, each other, and our Earth. At one event I went to Mary Robinson spoke, and then Casey Camp Horinek, an indigenous women from Oklahoma. And Casey said: “Never did I think I’d hear the former prime minister of Ireland use the words Mother Earth.” There’s some convergence happening between worlds that used to not intersect. I felt it a year ago at the People’s Climate March, and felt it more in Paris. Jobs, health, the rights of nature, the rights of future generations, the fact that we survive together or not at all. Suddenly all of that is so obvious it’s as though we always knew it. But we didn’t. We really didn’t. (And I know it’s not universal, not nearly enough, but in Paris what connects us felt, to me, stronger than what divides us).

And so my deepest gratitude to those who, at Paris and beyond, weave the connections. The diplomats who held 200 countries together, the young people who see themselves as citizens of a planet, not nations.The indigenous people, the workers, the healers, the farmers, the city planners who are all showing up and saying, we hold a part of the solution, listen to how it looks from where we sit.

It’s messy, slow, and incomplete. It’s organic, surprising, and invigorating. Frustrating, unfair, insufficient. But most of all, not done yet, but not blocked either. With a place and an important job for each of us.

 

Beth is Co-Director of Climate Interactive, a not-for-profit organization based in Washington DC aimed to help people see what works to address climate change and related issues like energy, water, food, and disaster risk reduction. A biologist with a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Beth trained in system dynamics and sustainability with Donella Meadows and worked at Sustainability Institute, the research institute founded by Meadows, for 13 years. Below is her reaction to the news from Paris. 


Student Speak Out about the World They Will Inherit

Students from the Burlington Sustainability Academy Sushila, Sarah, and Barsha reading a poem they wrote together at Wednesday’s Youth Speak Out

Last Wednesday, 350Vermont facilitated a youth speak out at ArtsRiot in Burlington. It was an inspiring event, with youth varying in ages sharing their thoughts on the world and its struggles they will eventually inherent. Below is a sample of the power words heard that night, by a student named Ethan Ireland, entitled Greed. 

Greed is a very potent force in today’s society. It keeps many hard-working people poor, and many not-so-hard-working people rich. Greed is so potent, in fact, that it literally kills people and destroys the environment. That’s correct. Through exploitation and stubbornness, greed is killing this planet and everything on it.

Firstly, oil companies are doing their best to keep people dependent on oil and other fossil fuels for energy. This pumps a lot of greenhouse gases and toxins into the atmosphere. Acid rain is one byproduct of burning fossil fuels. Normal rain is slightly acidic from compounds within the air. But elevated levels of certain compounds can make the rain unusually acidic – much to the detriment of wherever it comes down. Another byproduct of burning fossil fuels is the greenhouse effect. Normally, the atmosphere has just a little carbon dioxide, keeping us nice and warm. However, elevated levels of greenhouse gases kick the greenhouse effect into overdrive, toppling ecosystems and food chains. This is very true of the ocean, where many species are very sensitive to changes in temperature. Already species are dying due to climate change, and not just in the ocean. Humans may or may not follow.

Greed is also killing people. Many people, especially in third-world countries, have died prematurely due to pollution. People are also severely underpaid in some places so that the people at the top of a certain company can make more money. Minimum wage is barely enough to sustain most people, thus the term “starvation wage.” Most minimum wage workers can’t support a family, and they need help from government programs, such as Medicaid, Welfare, WIC, and others. Then, the people at the top, e.g. the owner(s)/CEO(s) of Walmart, complain that their tax dollars are going to people who can’t support themselves. It is a cycle caused by the greed of people who make way more money than needed. Many companies also hire people only part time so that they don’t need to pay for their employees’ healthcare. This adds fuel to the flames of the cycle of blame.

Greed is most certainly a force to be reckoned with. It destroys so that the rich may have more. But does one need billions upon billions of dollars? The people at the top may tell you ‘yes,’ but the correct answer is no. We must put an end to this, and ensure that all may have a fair shot at getting what they need.


Climate Technofix: Weaving Carbon into Gold and Other Myths of “negative emissions”

By Rachel Smolker, PhDSandakan_Sabah_Biomass-Power-Plant-300x200[1]

When the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) published their most recent fifth assessment report, something surprising and deeply disturbing was lurking in the small print in chapter three on “mitigation”.

The IPCC revealed that to achieve even a recognizably normal future climate the models they reviewed relied on not only drastically reducing emissions in the future, but also on widespread use of some advanced technology that can remove some of the CO2 that is already in the atmosphere.

In fact, most (101 of 116 models they reviewed to achieve 430-480 PPM stabilization) incorporated some sort of “negative emissions” technological fix (Fuss et al., 2014).

Sandakan Sabah Biomass Power Plant
SANDAKAN SABAH BIOMASS POWER PLANT
The terminology of “negative emissions” has now entered the jargon in climate negotiations currently underway in Paris. Yet such a technology is currently nonexistent. The only approach to sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere mentioned by the IPCC as “near term available” is bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, commonly referred to as “BECCS” (Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Sequestration).

BECCS involves producing biomass in massive amounts and either refining it into liquid biofuels (ethanol etc.) or burning it for electricity and heat, while also capturing the resulting CO2 emissions and burying them underground.

IPCC acknowledges that there are risks and uncertainties associated with large scale BECCS. But, while IPCC has remained scientifically rigorous in their assessments of the state of our climate (chapter one of the report), when it comes to assessing “mitigation” options (chapter three), scientific rigor appears to have fallen by the wayside in favor of economic wishful thinking. The fact is that no matter how costly or difficult it may be economically and no matter how difficult to make the models “work” to lay out a path to climate stabilization, embracing fantasy technofixes is a losing strategy. We already know that for both technical and economic reasons, BECCS can never achieve “negative emissions”. In fact, in a new report on BECCS, by Biofuelwatch refers to reliance on BECCS to clean up our climate mess as being roughly as dependable as counting on a visit from carbon sucking extraterrestrials from another planet.

The reality of BECCS
There are currently only a handful of operating commercial BECCS facility in existence, based at ethanol refineries, the most notable being the Archer Daniels Midland project in Decatur Illinois. These capture CO2 from fermentation, which is cheaper and easier than capturing CO2 from other processes because fermentation results in a relatively pure CO2 stream. The Decatur project is a proof of concept project for underground storage of CO2. However, its developers never claimed to provide “negative emissions” nor even to be “carbon neutral”. A few others sell the captured fermentation CO2 for industrial applications including soft drinks and enhanced oil recovery (see below).

Meanwhile, burning wood for industrial and commercial scale electricity and heat is the bioenergy process that is scaling up most rapidly, with co-firing of wood pellets in coal power plants. Industry and governments continue to claim that burning wood for electricity is renewable and “carbon neutral”. Hence they subsidize it alongside wind and solar, even though the CO2 emissions are generally much higher even than for coal per unit of energy generated. The notion that those emissions will be offset by regrowth of the trees and crops that are used has been refuted over and over again, yet still is not reflected in policies. Yet, if the process is not “carbon neutral” in the first place, it can never be rendered “negative” by carbon capture.

We also know full well by now that the demand for “biomass” and the associated land, water, fertilizers use etc. would be hugely destructive on a variety of fronts beyond greenhouse gas emissions – affecting food production, water, human rights and biodiversity. This is clear already at the current scale of bioenergy production.

BECCS is the bioenergy twin of “clean coal”, the carbon capture (CCS) technology that has been touted for years by the coal industry. So how has that worked out?

Carbon capture from fossil fuel processes, as from bioenergy, is expensive and energy intensive. Most attempts – almost all involving coal and natural gas, have encountered a multitude of technical problems and massive cost overruns. They have failed to operate efficiently if at all.

FutureGen, a demonstration “clean coal” plant, was intended to be a US showcase example of CCS technology. Somewhere around 200 million dollars of pubic funding were spent prior to cancellation in 2013. It was canceled in part because private investors wouldn’t chip in. They didn’t consider it viable, presumably because the technical and economic challenges were simply too great.

Another CCS “clean coal” project is in progress in Kemper, Mississippi. The facility will use lignite coal strip mined from an adjacent area of around 48 square miles. Costs were initially estimated at 1.8 billion but have so far ballooned to an astounding 6.17 billion. Even then, the facility is required only to “try” to capture CO2. If they fail, they won’t be held responsible. If they succeed, they have contracted to sell the CO2 for enhanced oil recovery. The project is nevertheless still presented as “good for the climate”.

Last year SaskPower’s billion dollar Boundary Dam project, capturing CO2 from a coal plant came online amid massive hype and proclamations of success. However, recent release of internal documents

“have not only shed light on the technical and financial problems with the plant but the political deception that has gone with it… A little over a year later, the hype about the purported environmental benefits and affordability of the Boundary Dam CCS plant have gone up in a puff of green smoke.”

CCS has been held up as the promise behind “clean coal” for decades. Yet a few weeks ago, after 22 years of lobbying for so-called “clean coal” and failing to produce a single speck of it, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity announced that they will scale back their lobbying efforts.

In “Carbon capture: Miracle machine or white elephant“, the Financial Times noted “Few technologies have had so much money thrown at them for so many years by so many governments and companies, with such feeble results.”

Even above and beyond the problems already mentioned, necessary infrastructure, such as pipelines, to handle captured CO2 and transport it to storage sites are not always conveniently available. Underground storage of CO2 is also questionable. Leaks are pretty much inevitable. A slow leak would release the CO2 back into the atmosphere, while catastrophic leaks from, say, an earthquake, could be lethal to surrounding populations as CO2 is deadly when concentrated.

Where carbon capture has been implemented (primarily in natural gas refinery operations), the costs are offset in part by selling the CO2 for “enhanced oil recovery”, that is: pumping compressed CO2 into depleted oil wells which forces more oil to the surface. But this is neither considered “sequestration” nor is it climate friendly. Quite the reverse.

Still, governments continue to dole out the cash for CCS projects. Doing so is viewed, politically, as “taking action” to reduce emissions. Energy companies on the other hand, have not invested significantly into BECCS or CCS. Governments, that is, we the taxpayers, are instead footing the bill for this endless nonsense.

None of this bodes well for a miraculous, rapid and effective scaling up of BECCS as climate savior. Just recently, DRAX, one of UK’s largest power companies, announced that they were abandoning their “White Rose” BECCS project. That project, sometimes billed as “carbon negative”, was to involve construction of a sizeable new coal plant (the first new plant in UK since 1972). DRAX was slated to receive millions in government subsidies for mixing wood pellets with coal and, in theory at least, capturing and burying some proportion of the CO2 emissions.

Now, as the Paris climate negotiations are just beginning, the UK announced they will altogether drop their promised “pioneering” funding competition for CCS.

Now what?

The idea that we can somehow remove CO2 from the atmosphere is highly appealing. But so far it is simply not possible, and BECCS, even if it existed and was affordable, could not achieve that. Nevertheless, polluting industries, with their slick PR machinery and near infinite budgets, stand prepared to hype whatever will allow them to maintain business as usual: whether it is clean coal, carbon neutral bioenergy, or negative emissions. These are the lies and false promises upon which we are expected to hang our hopes. In reality, they are pointless babble, smoke and mirrors designed to distract a public that is finally coming to recognize the causes and magnitude of the climate crisis but which still remains naively vulnerable to false hopes for a magical technofix.

As the Paris climate negotiations are underway, we bear witness the latest fad: “CO2 recycling”. Instead of putting serious attention to addressing the roots of the problem, we are encouraged to embrace an entrepreneurial and stylishly clever mindset that CO2 is no longer a “problem” but should instead be viewed as a valuable commodity! Why not make stuff from CO2 and sell it? We can profit from our own pollution!

Recently, “XPrize” announced a collaboration with the American energy company, NRG and the oil sands innovation alliance (Cosia) to provide a 20 million dollar bounty for development of a technology capable of making something of value from CO2 removed from the atmosphere.

But, recall the famous 3R’s of waste management? Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. We learned that reuse and recycle only slightly postpone the approach into landfills: a blink of the eye in the lifetime of a plastic. As it turns out, reduce is really the key, it alone addresses the root of the problem. The same is likely to be true for CO2. The only seeming reason to make CO2 products dependent on the perpetuation of an unsustainable and polluting industry (to generate the CO2) is to keep the polluting industry alive.

This idea of CO2 recycling brings to mind the famous fairy tale of Rumplestiltskin, In that story, the princess is commanded to spin straw into gold. A magical imp offers to assist her with this impossible task, but only if she promises to hand over her firstborn child to him. When her child is born, the imp offers that if she can only guess his name, she can keep her child. Happily, she succeeds.

Now we have the fossil fuel industry, XPrize backers representing some of the most atrociously polluting industries, and even some well intentioned people who genuinely, if naively, wish for a technofix to “solve the climate problem” demanding that we spin gold out of CO2 emissions if we want our children to have a decent future.

But we don’t actually have to play mind games with magical imps. We know of tried and true solutions to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Those include a global transition away from industrial agriculture and towards agroecology, good soil practices and the restoration of native ecosystems, including the halting of deforestation. Overall good stewardship of the land and nature would take us much farther towards healing the atmosphere, something that many, including organizations such as La Via Campesina (the peasant farmers), Global Forest Coalition, Indigenous Environmental Network and indigenous peoples around the world have long fought for.

Those real solutions will not generate “renewable energy” or marketable products and therefore are not technically “negative emissions”. They do not rely on shiny new technofixes or pretend to “recycle” pollution. Importantly, they are not so amenable to monetization, corruption, or corporate monopolization. Hence they are rarely given more than lip service, and when they are, it is in the context of bringing them into the market, and providing offsets for polluters as in the case with forests and “reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation” (REDD) and “Climate Smart Agriculture“.

What is needed more than ever is to see through the smoke and mirrors, stop providing massive funding for lifelines to the polluting industries and embrace the obvious and common sense solutions that are tried and true, and remain our best hope.

References
Fuss et al. (2014) Betting on negative emissions. Nature Climate Change 4: 850–853.

Rachel Smolker is Co-Director of Biofuelwatch

For more in-depth, see Biofuelwatch’s new report:
Last-ditch option or wishful thinking? Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage.

 

This piece was originally published in Independent Science News


Fossil Fuel Investments Cost the Vermont Pension Fund Millions

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New analysis of the Vermont pension funds and other large funds shows high costs of not divesting from fossil fuels

Investments in fossil fuel companies have severely hurt the financial performance of pensions for Vermont’s teachers, state and municipal employees, according to a new investment tool created to assess carbon risk. Today, 350Vermont, Vermont Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Clean Yield Asset Management announced the results of a new tool applied to the $4.02 billion combined pension fund managed by the Vermont Pension Investment Committee (VPIC) for over 40,000 retirees and active workers. The tool revealed that VPIC’s investments in the top 200 oil, gas, and coal companies cost Vermont pension holders more than $77 million1 in reduced returns over the past three years.

“We have urged VPIC to divest from the fossil fuel industry on moral and financial grounds for the last three years,” said Maeve McBride from 350Vermont. “Now we have proof that divestment would have financially benefited pension holders.

The new analytical tool, Decarbonizer, was developed by Corporate Knights, together with 350.org and South Pole Group. Decarbonizer is an interactive tool that shows how divesting from carbon-heavy companies in a portfolio could affect its financial performance. The Vermont pension fund was analyzed along with 13 other prominent funds, including the Gates Foundation and the Canada Pension Plan, totaling $1 trillion in assets. The analysis estimated the potential financial impact had the funds shifted their investments in October 2012 from the most carbon heavy coal and oil companies2, as well as coal-intensive utilities3 to companies that derive at least 20% of their revenues from environmental markets or new energy4. The 14 funds experienced a scale of losses over the past three years exceeding $22 billion.

“This study points out the flawed arguments that VPIC has made for continuing to invest in fossil fuel companies, namely the unfounded assertion that divesting would reduce returns of the funds and hurt beneficiaries. Over the past three years just the opposite has been true, to the tune of more than $77 million,” stated Eric Becker of Clean Yield Asset Management. “Further, the tool shows that had VPIC divested from the top 200 oil, gas, and coal companies, the risk profile of the portfolio would have been virtually unchanged.”

In July, VPIC heard expert testimony on the improved performance of fossil fuel free investing, yet they voted unanimously to reject fossil fuel divestment, in whole or in part, because it was inconsistent with VPIC’s Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) policy. The Vermont General Assembly is considering both binding legislation that would require VPIC to divest out of the top 200 carbon polluters over five years, as well as a Joint Resolution urging VPIC to do so.

“We now know that maintaining investments in climate change’s worst offenders isn’t just bad environmental policy, it’s bad financial policy,” said Nate Hausman, the Vermont Chapter of the Sierra Club’s Energy Committee Chair. “Divesting our state’s pension fund from fossil fuels will pay dividends to Vermont’s pension holders and to future generations of Vermonters alike. As a state, it’s high time we put our money where our mouth is on climate action.”

“The impact of climate change will be a major investment theme in the next decade and investors who are at the forefront of addressing risks, such as stranded assets in their portfolio construction and security selection process, should be the beneficiaries of stronger long-term risk adjusted performance,” said Christopher Ito, Chief Executive Officer of Fossil Free Indexes.

While this analysis focused on the past three years, dating to the launch of the fossil fuel divestment movement, other analyses over a ten year period byMSCI andFossil Free Indexes also found fossil free portfolios outperformed.

“As a beneficiary of the Vermont pension, I want my pension invested in a sustainable future, not in reckless and corrupt companies that are wrecking the planet,” said K.C. Whiteley, a retired state employee. “Most beneficiaries have no idea that we’ve each lost roughly $1800 of our retirement savings in the last three years because of these risky fossil fuel investments.”

The period of analysis coincides with a tough market for oil and commodity prices, and it is possible that over the next few years, some oil stocks and even coal utilities could partially recover. However, when considering the long-term, many investors recognize the increasingly tenuous business case for remaining heavily invested in carbon intensive industries, as outlined by the Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney. In failing to divest, institutions risk under-exposure to $3 trillion of public equities positioned to benefit from a more resource efficient and expanding low carbon economy.


Vermont : Explain Yourself

Solar photo

By Gideon Commey

I  entered Reagan National Airport like a cow in a china shop, guileless. The airport is small but so choked with travellers that I was literally dehydrated after the long check-in which was a mission indeed. But as soon as the aircraft kissed the tarmac, dancing on the Burlington runway, I was invigorated. Minutes before landing, while dangling in the sky, I had been greeted by the lush green landscape and then upon disembarking, the joy of seeing solar panels sitting on roof tops. Incredibly green, progressive Vermont!

I didn’t really have much expectations coming to the Green Mountain State for my four months Community Solutions Fellowship with 350Vermont, but at this stage, I had figured out many more. First impression they say is the last impression, mine was everlasting. Having received a warming welcome by my amazing community mentor and 350Vermont volunteers organizer Brittany Dunn, I ushered into my first week in Burlington. Hoping that through adventure and glorious serendipity, Vermont will explain itself.

My first weekend was spent at the Farmers Market at the City Hall Park, an indoor local farmers market providing the community with producer grown and produced products. What made me tick about the farmers market was the fact that food items on display were locally grown and the powerful sense of community and belonging expressed by the people who thronged the space to interact and buy. The closest inspiration of a community market back in Ghana that I have visited is the Accra Green Market. What an amazing experience it was visiting with the team from our organization Ghana Youth Environmental Movement (GYEM) within the last two years.

The first Sunday was spent at the Unitarian Universalist Church. As a devout Christian and an activist, it was truly a humbling experience communing with people from all walks of life, conscious about social and environmental justice and are either people of faith or are finding their own path. But maybe, the ‘kairos moment’ was rather the photo moment — in front of the Church’s incredible parking lot inundated with solar panels, the largest solar infrastructure I have ever seen on a parking lot. It wasn’t just progressive and impressive, it was inspiring and transforming.

I didn’t have to ask for more in my first week in Vermont before it got delivered. Meeting JT Lukens, a Solar Community Organizer at SunCommon presented an in-depth insight into the solar friendly policies in the state, coupled with the financing strategies driving the solar revolution in Vermont. It was also indeed a great opportunity to share the Ghanaian renewable energy journey, challenges and potentials, as well as the work we are doing with Solar People in Ghana with an amazing and passionate team of  young entrepreneurs, technicians and marketers to promote the solar technology.

There is definitely more to Vermont that I haven’t experienced so far in Burlington. I hope to travel more to Montpelier to meet non-profit organizations; attend conferences on solar energy; eat more sandwiches to fatten me up a little; get the attention of Juniper, my housemate’s dog to take a photo with me. And in the course of this adventure, if I face any conundrum, I won’t hesitate to yell, Vermont: explain yourself!


Stop the Oil Trains!

Stop Oil Trains Week of Action, Burlington, VT 7-6-15 and Ticonderoga, NY 7-7-15

Blog post, photos and video (link at bottom of post) by Arthur Hynes 

Lac Megantic Vigil at Burlington's Waterfront Park

Lac Megantic Vigil at Burlington’s Waterfront Park

On July 6, the 2nd anniversary of the Lac Mégantic Disaster, a group from of us from 350VT gathered to commemorate the tragic event in which 47 people lost their lives in an inferno explosion. We had a small but very visible vigil on the lakefront in Burlington and very close to train tracks that carry oil — but not yet fracked oil — through Vermont. We displayed signs and held candles in solidarity with Lac Mégantic, QC and in coordination with other events in the US and Canada, including a large rally across the lake in Plattsburgh, NY. In Burlington and in Plattsburgh the names of the 47 victims were read aloud.

On July 7 a group of us gathered at the Shoreham, VT boat launch and set forth across Lake Champlain in about 15 boats to join a spirited rally in Ticonderoga, NY to stop the bomb trains that run very close to Lake Champlain. The rally was joined by speakers from NY, Vermont and Massachusetts and members of the Bread and Puppet Circus who entertained us with music and a cantestoria. We then walked a short ways to the Ticonderoga Amtrak station where we took over the train tracks and station in a symbolic protest for 47 minutes in commemoration of the 47 murder victims in Lac Mégantic, QC.

 

The Flotilla crossing Lake Champlain

The Flotilla crossing Lake Champlain

 

Rally at Ticonderoga

Rally at Ticonderoga

Through a brief rainstorm we sang and talked and honored all the victims of fossil fuel destruction and disasters. There were a number of police and security personnel present but no arrests. We heard reports of 2 coordinated actions nearby that did result in arrests. After a closing ceremony the rally ended and the boaters headed back to Vermont in beautiful afternoon light. To see a video of the event click here.


Summer of Solidarity Week of Action

by Taylor Cook and Sarah Vukelich

Many roadblocks on the path to justice share the same underlying systemic causes. A just future is a future free from racism, sexism, classism, environmental destruction, patriarchy, white supremacy, transphobia, ableism, heterosexism, and all other forms of oppression. Acknowledging the need for collaboration to address these systems and the strength of their intersections, 350Vermont, Green Mountain Self-Advocates, ​Migrant Justice/Justicia Migrante, Rising Tide Vermont, Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, Vermont Center for Independent Living, Vermont Workers’ Center, together comprising the Vermont Human Rights Council, have come together with a shared vision for a future of justice, equity, and liberation and have launched the Summer of Solidarity Week of Action.

photo 1 (11)

UVM Medical Center Board of Trustees Meeting

Yesterday, nurses at the UVM medical center delivered a presentation at the Board of Trustees meeting demanding a fair contract and the respect they deserve as professionals on the front lines of patient care. Over 60 nurses and community members flooded the meeting room in support. Today their campaign continued with the  “Honk and Wave for Safe Staffing” on Colchester Avenue across from the UVM Medical Center. UVM’s nurses worked 47,408 overtime hours last year. Changes must be made to in order for our nurses to safely provide excellent patient care.
https://www.facebook.com/events/1604551229800511/

On Saturday, Migrant Justice will have a national day of action at Ben and Jerry’s scoop shops in 14 cities across the country to demonstrate the support behind the grassroots movement Milk with Dignity. Vermont dairy workers face abominable working and housing conditions: 12-14 hour days, wage theft, and avoidable workplace injuries. The Milk with Dignity Program was created to ensure that dairy farms support the human rights of workers, and as pressure mounts, hopefully Ben and Jerry’s will become the first corporation to sign on to the campaign.
http://www.migrantjustice.net/

Both the nurses’ fight for a fair contract and Migrant Justice’s campaign are struggles for basic human dignity and justice, and we must consider them central to our struggle as people who care about climate justice.

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Photo by Michael Shrader

Finally, on June 22-23 the campaign against the fracked gas pipeline reaches a critical moment, as the Vermont Public Service Board is about to hold the final technical hearings to decide whether to reevaluate Vermont Gas’s permits to build the pipeline. The pipeline poses a serious threat to communities across the state, and thousands of Vermonters–ratepayers, landowners, and concerned citizens–have fought, rallied, and organized for over two years to stop it. Our vision for the future does not include an industry that relies fundamentally on the unjust exploitation of people and our planet. The construction of the VT Gas pipeline would result in the largest build of fossil fuel infrastructure Vermont has seen in 50 years. Organized by a coalition that includes 350Vermont, Rising Tide Vermont, and Just Power, hundreds of protesters will gather in Montpelier on the days of the hearing, June 22-23, for a rally at 4 p.m. followed by speeches, performances, and an all-night vigil and encampment.
https://www.facebook.com/events/844509015629326/
http://www.risingtidevermont.org/june-22.html

Tonight, June 19th from 8:30-10:00pm at the Unitarian Church on 152 Pearl Street in Burlington, there will a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Charleston massacre. https://www.facebook.com/events/900809646631216/
http://350.org/how-racial-justice-is-integral-to-confronting-climate-crisis/

We are surrounded with constant reminders of the violent ways systems of oppression manifest. We can no longer ignore the systems that underlie the injustices we face. It is crucial that we all stand together now, and always, as we take action. This is bigger than any person, group, or cause: this is a movement. To make a difference, we must stand together in solidarity. We hope you join us!

 


In the belly of the beast…

exxonmobil_red
On Wednesday, May 27 in Dallas, Treasurer Beth Pearce spoke in support of a shareholder proposal at ExxonMobil’s annual shareholder meeting that called for the fossil fuel giant to limit its greenhouse gas emissions. During the meeting, ExxonMobil’s CEO Rex Tillerman mocked renewable energy and minimized the effects that climate change is already having on millions of people worldwide.

 

In April, under pressure from the divestment movement, the Treasurer’s Office released a report outlining its coalition work with other institutional investors working to combat climate change. Much of this work is impressive, and importantly, most of it can continue full steam ahead even when the state divests.

 

While the Treasurer’s objectives in Dallas are laudable, asking the third largest company in the world to go out of business is a distraction from the real work that needs to be done. Until they change course and support state divestment out of fossil fuels, VPIC and the Treasurer are pursuing a policy that will ultimately saddle pension beneficiaries with greater risk and less return.

 

Existing ExxonMobil gasfield in Papua New Guinea

Existing ExxonMobil gasfield in Papua New Guinea

The meeting began with a summary of the company’s accomplishments and ambitions. They included a photo of a fracking site in the mountains of Papua New Guinea. They showed all of the recent land acquisitions globally for new fossil fuel extractions. They boasted of being able to extract oil from “extremely challenging environments,” like the Artic and tar sands. It was a sad day for the planet, for women, and for workers. You can listen to the meeting here.

At the meeting, several shareholder resolutions were presented, including one on climate change, equal pay & benefits for women, and transparency in lobbying.

 

Sister Pat Daly introduced the resolution on capping greenhouse gas emissions, and she has been engaging at shareholder meetings since 1997. She spoke on behalf of 45 institutional investors, including the Vermont Pension Investment Committee (VPIC). She insisted that many shareholders are requesting transparency with Exxon’s climate change policies and asking the company to become an integrated and low carbon company.

 

Beth Pearce provided the only comment on the GHG resolution. She indicated that public pension fund investors, like VPIC, are more and more concerned with climate change. She said that she wanted to see ExxonMobil excel in a carbon-constrained economy. She mentioned the climate change impacts that Vermont is feeling – impacts to maple syrup, skiing industry, and our rivers. “Climate change poses real financial risks…and requires a strategic shift,” Pearce said, because the current strategy is “wholly inadequate” to address climate change.

 

Sadly, though unsurprisingly, the resolution failed miserably. Only 9.6% of shareholders voted for the resolution. Last year, a similar proposal brought in over 20%.

 

With the climate clock ticking ever more quickly, many climate advocates are urging a better alternative: divestment from fossil fuel stocks. To avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change, most reserves of coal, oil, and gas must stay underground. Divestment poses a direct threat to the companies, like ExxonMobil, fueling climate change. Fortunately, due to rising social and regulatory pressure, fossil fuel companies may soon be forced to keep reserves underground. When that happens, stockholders will be left with stranded assets – trillions of dollars in overvalued reserves of coal, oil, and gas that will be rendered valueless when the carbon bubble bursts.

 

In response to these risks, there have been several large divestments over recent months. Last September, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund announced their divestment from fossil fuel companies. In February, Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund worth $850 billion, removed 114 fossil fuel companies from its holdings. On May 1, the Church of England announced that it had divested from coal and tar sands. Last week, the huge insurance company Axa said that it was removing $386m of coal investments from its portfolio. The “carbon bubble” is deflating, so the time to get out of fossil fuel investments is now.

Due to 350 Vermont’s urging at the May meeting, VPIC has begun looking into the financial effects coal divestment will (or won’t) have on the pension funds. VPIC member Karen Paul asked the Northeast Pension Consultants (NEPC) to compile a report on Vermont pension divestment from coal for the July meeting. 

Divesting from the largest fossil fuel companies is a win-win scenario for Vermonters. Pension-holders’ retirement funds would be more prudently managed, and the state would no longer undermine its own efforts to reduce dangerous carbon emissions by financing the fossil fuel companies.

350VT Coordinator Maeve McBride “really didn’t think she could stomach [ExxonMobil’s] meeting” – it was that bad. 350 Vermont and our allies are leading a campaign to urge VPIC and the Treasurer to divest our pension funds, rather than wasting time on futile shareholder engagement. But to change everything, we need everyone. If you would like to be involved, please email jillian@350vt.org or maeve@350vt.org.

 

Onward!

  Jillian MayerIMG_1125

  Divestment Organizer for 350VT


Bring Your Green Message to Boston…By Bicycle!

14467040409_9340865d02_oYou’re invited to join us on one of the Climate Rides! 350 Vermont is now a beneficiary and you can join one of these incredible bicycle rides or hikes to explore beautiful landscapes and have the time of your life, while supporting our work.  

Right now, we’re recruiting members for our new Team 350VT Climate Riders on this year’s Bar Harbor, Maine to Boston ride. You can be part of the fun and raise funds for 350VT at the same time. 350VT Coordinator Maeve McBride will be the Captain for Team 350VT, and she’s training already!

The Bar Harbor to Boston ride is a fully supported 5-day trip from September 17 – 21st. You will get simple overnight cabins or camping, three meals a day, a cycling jersey, and your bags will be transported from stop to stop.

carlaneimageParticipating in a Climate Ride event is an inspiring journey with a group of people who are united to support sustainability and protect our planet. Climate Ride also features an acclaimed nightly speaker series, known as the ‘green conference on wheels,’ where we hear from bright minds in policy, advocacy and innovation.

Anyone who has participated in Climate Ride raves about the tour as a ‘life-changing’ and ‘eye-opening’ experience. What is even better is that you can enjoy this great event, while at the same time helping to support 350VT’s mission. If you select us as your beneficiary when you register or join one of our teams we will be the recipient of the funds you raise, which means our efforts will gain even more traction in the future. Registration for Climate Ride events is $100 (which includes a beautiful cycling jersey or hiking shirt and more), and then you raise at least $2800 to participate in these all-inclusive events. The events are fully-supported by a team of talented leaders. Climate Ride is with you every step of the way to help with fundraising, training and logistics.  To top it all off, Climate Ride is one of the ‘greenest’ multi-day charity ride events in the world.

Urban BikingWhen you sign up, you’ll be joining many other people who want to do something to help create a better future for all of us. Climate Ride is a great way to get involved and experience an incredible adventure, powered by your own energy. Sign up as soon as you can to secure your spot in the events!

We’re hosting an information session on June 3rd to learn more about Climate Ride. The info session will be in Burlington or Montpelier – please email Maeve (maeve@350vt.org) to let us know if you’d like to attend with your preferred location.

Find out more and register at www.climateride.org. Use coupon code AGAIN2015 to get $25 off your registration fee!

See you on the road!


Personal divestment an important action against climate change

Deborah Messing is a longtime volunteer with 350 Vermont, and was an integral part of the organizing team for the Personal Divestment Seminar. She believes in the financial and political power of Elder Vermonters, and is committed to organizing her community to stand up to fossil fuel companies by publicly divesting.

IMG_3647I’m heartened that so many people were willing to sacrifice a few hours of outdoor time on a beautiful early Spring Vermont afternoon, to learn about personally divesting from fossil fuels. The Main St. Landing in Burlington on May 2 was the venue for the seminar “Your Investments Matter”, organized by 350VT and divestor.org. Over 40 people attended. The majority of these attendees were already committed to the idea of personal divestment, but wanted more information on how to get started, various options available, the question of risk involved and the possibilities for re-investment of divested funds into sustainable directions.

Individuals have an important part to play in the divestment movement. More and more of us are taking matters into our own hands and, rather than allowing our money to contribute to climate change, are choosing to divest from fossil fuel companies. Dan Quinlan, one of the event’s organizers and the creator of divestor.org, served as our moderator. Recently energized by attending Harvard Heat Week, he communicated the importance of personally divesting as a tool to fight climate change. “The personal divestment movement also presents the opportunity for more people to learn about and invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency – the heart of the new energy economy,” Dan said.

Each panelist focused on their specific area of expertise, and introduced many exciting ideas and approaches to this topic.

Banner by high schooler Jenna Rice on display at the Personal Divestment Seminar

Banner by high schooler Jenna Rice on display at the Personal Divestment Seminar

Panelists included:

Dan Quinlan, divestor.org: dan@divestor.org, (802) 760-7400

Jake Ide, Vermont Community Loan Fund: jake@vclf.org, (802) 223-4423

Tom Francis, Fossil Free Indexes: tomfrancis@fossilfreeindexes.com, (781) 504-6413

Harris Roen, Roen Financial Report: harris@roen.net, (802) 658-2368

Karin Chamberlain, Clean Yield Asset Management: karin@cleanyield.com, (802) 526-2525 x105

Tom Francis began the Seminar with an overview of Fossil Free Indexes’ criteria for companies and history of researching the fossil fuel industry. Fossil Free Indexes, LLC has been instrumental in crafting the divestment movement’s strategy, and is a good resource to learn about the big picture of our movement.

Personally, the most helpful conversations for me were those related to specific alternative energy companies, mutual funds, and exchange-traded funds (ETFs). During his talk, Harris Roen outlined his helpful, online Roen Financial Report – a great resource for folks looking to research alternative investments. In his Report, Harris has expertly analyzed which companies and funds are “greenest,” according to a list of various criteria. I encourage anyone interested in divestment to take a look at his website.

Karin Chamberlain of Clean Yield Asset Management has had a decades-long career in research and developing sustainable investments. At the Seminar, she suggested investing in companies that are incorporating sustainability into their business strategy. For example, a certain forklift company recently bought a fuel cell company, in an effort to begin using that renewable resource throughout their business. Choosing to invest in that forklift company would be a wise environmental and financial choice for investors interested in long-term company viability.

Jake Ide explained the fabulous work that the Vermont Community Loan Fund (VCLF) does, and reminded the audience that investing in the VCLF is investing directly in improving the lives of Vermonters.

Inspiring, provocative, detailed, and cautionary but enthusiastic, the Seminar was a great beginning to our personal divestment campaign. Plans are in the works for taking this seminar “on the road.” Stay tuned!

 

Thanks to the Personal Divestment Seminar’s sponsors: Progressive Asset Management, Bob the Green Guy, and The Skinny Pancake, & Main Street Landing.

 

Watch the Personal Divestment Seminar online anytime, courtesy of Bob the Green Guy:

http://bobthegreenguy.com/personal-investment-seminar/