Fighting Climate Change Right Here, Right Now

By Nadine Borduas, Member-at-Large for the GCI

Climate change.

It’s a humongous issue. It affects every single person on Earth. It has deadly consequences. It’s our fault.

Why, then, are so many idle? Perhaps because it requires significant changes in the current lifestyles of billions of people. The challenge is to completely move away from fossil fuels and move towards sustainable sources of energy and raw materials as quickly as possible. As chemists, we have an important role to play in this transition. There’s active research worldwide to produce fine chemicals from renewable sources and to become completely independent from petroleum based chemicals.

Because climate change is such a giant, complex and long term problem, how do we, as individuals (and chemists), make concrete contributions to address climate change? One proactive group at U of T, Toronto350.org, is attempting to make a difference. This group of volunteers recently drafted a divestment campaign to encourage U of T to sell its current investments in fossil fuel companies.

Why do I strongly support this campaign? It’s simple math. In order to avoid a 2oC increase in global average temperatures by the end of the century, which would destabilize the climate with potential for catastrophic consequences, we must emit no more than 565 gigatonnes of CO2 in the future. Burning the world’s proven reserve would emit 2795 gigatonnes of CO2. 2795 > 565!!! We therefore cannot afford to risk burning the worlds’ proven oil, coal and gas reserves. We must stop taking buried carbon out of the ground now (well yesterday…). U of T can play a leading role in climate change mitigation by cancelling its investments in fossil fuel companies. The divestment document outlines why it is in U of T’s best interest to divest for ethical and long term financial reasons. First, by divesting, U of T will become a leader in preventing climate catastrophe by helping halt the fossil fuel industry expansion. Diverting investments towards clean energy sources are necessary to make the required rapid transition away from fossil fuels. Second, since most of the fossil fuel is too dangerous to burn, there is a financial risk that stock values will fall and that investors will lose huge sums of money. Finally, social and political change can influence policy. U of T will help direct money far away from fossil fuels and even further from climate disaster.

The U of T divestment campaign is not unique in North America or around the world. Look at the quickly growing number of institutions, including several cities on the west coast and elsewhere, which have already committed to divesting from fossil fuels: http://gofossilfree.org/commitments/

My main message is this: endorse the “U of T divestment brief” at http://toronto350.org/, to fight climate change right here, right now. (And if you’re not a U of T student, staff or faculty member, check if there is a divestment campaign at your institution or start your own!)

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