If you’re anything like me, you probably receive a couple of emails a day asking you to sign a petition or lobby a politician about some kind of social issue or environmental campaign. It can quickly become overwhelming. So, if you only have time to sign one petition this week, this month or even this year, make it one that counts. Personally, I feel like the Guardian’s Keep It In The Ground campaign would be a good place to start.
Launched back in March by the Guardian newspaper, the Keep It In The Ground campaign is based on a very simple premise: we simply can’t extract and burn all of the fossil fuels available to us. The majority of it has to stay in the ground, for the good of the environment and the future of the planet.
According to American environmentalist Bill McKibben, the issue of global warming actually comes down to a simple matter of arithmetic; a straightforward sum made up of three different numbers. The first of those is the number 2, the 2 degrees Celsius of global warming generally accepted by the world’s governments as a safe threshold. Anything more than that rise, and scientists predict that global warming will have “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts”. The second number is 565, the number of gigatonnes of carbon dioxide that can probably be produced by burning fossil fuels and still leave us with an 80 percent chance of keeping global warming under that 2 degree limit. And the third number is 2,795, the number of gigatonnes of fossil fuels that would be released if we burnt all of the fossil fuels that have been located so far. So, staying under 2 degrees Celsius means that no more than 565 gigatons of C02 is allowed to be emitted, but actually five times that amount, 2795 gigatons, is down in the ground, ready to be extracted and used.
With this campaign, the Guardian is making a direct appeal to a pair of what might seem like unlikely targets, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, the biggest and second biggest charitable foundations in the world, respectively. Keep It In The Ground is calling on them to remove all of their current investments from the top 200 fossil fuel companies and to freeze any future financial deals with them. It might seem like a strange tactic: Why target charitable foundations, rather than say, the coal or petroleum industries directly?
This kind of move is known as divestment, the systematic and deliberate removal of funds from specific companies or industries. Fossil fuel divestment in particular calls upon institutions to move their money out of oil, coal and gas in the hope that by stigmatising such links with fossil fuel companies, the whole legitimacy of the industry will be called into question. A recent report from Oxford University concluded that this process of stigmatisation actually “poses the most far-reaching threat to fossil fuel companies.” Divestment campaigns therefore can, and should, have a powerful impact.
Personally, I like this campaign because it’s clearly focussed on tangible goals, and based on simple, easily-understandable ideas that have wide-reaching and intensely significant global implications. Discussing the current fossil fuel situation in an interview with the New York Times last year, even Barack Obama admitted that, “We’re not going to be able to burn it all.” So, what’s a viable solution? Keeping it in the ground makes sense to me.
If you want to sign the petition too (currently at over 200,000 signatures and counting!) just visit the Guardian’s official campaign homepage. And for a simple visual summary of the campaign, check out the video below: