By Lin Smith
June 21, 2013—Photovoltaic (PV) technology, or the solar cell, is a power supply that produces electricity from the sun’s rays. In 1954, Bell Telephone Labs developed the first Photovoltaic Cell capable of powering everyday electrical equipment, but with only 4% efficiency. The solar cell has quickly achieved greater efficiency over the decades, as people seek free energy from the sun and express their concern about CO2 and global warming. When a solar cell is exposed to light, it can generate an electrical current without being attached to a voltage source. Photovoltaic–the term “photo” is derived from the greek word meaning “light” and “Volt” is from Alessandro Volta, inventor of first battery in 1800. Therefore, photovoltaic cells produce energy from light, which is a sustainable energy source. If something is “sustainable” it has been “developed to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” Sustainability also meets the needs of our planet, maintaining a healthy environment in which life can survive and flourish.
The first solar airplane to fly was an unmanned craft , Project Sunrise, in 1974 by Roland Boucher, an engineer for Hughes Aircraft. Boucher developed an aircraft powered only by solar panels on its wings. The Sunrise had a total weight of 22 lbs., could soar to a height of 8,000 ft., and made 28 flights before being destroyed in turbulant weather. Boucher’s invention had enough success to “demonstrate the feasibility of solar powered flight at extreme altitudes,” and opening the door for solar innovators to take to the sky!
Jump ahead to 2013, a solar airplane that can fly forever without landing and developed by a company called Solar Impulse, founded by Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg. Piccard came up with the idea of flying a solar aircraft after circling the earth in a hot air balloon. He stated, “After using almost three tons of fuel during my balloon trip, I knew I wanted to try to create a cleaner way of traveling. The balloon trip was almost a failure due to the dependency on fuel. On that day, I made a promise that the next time I would fly around the world, it would be with no fuel at all. Our company, Solar Impulse, has a goal—to prove that progress is possible using clean forms of energy.” The Solar Impulse aircraft is a one man airplane, can fly night or day, uses 12,000 solar cells mounted on its wings and stores the sun’s power in batteries–no fuel used! It flies approximately 45mph, uses the latest technology in advanced batteries to store the power of the sun and enables the aircraft to fly round-the-clock. It has the wingspan equal to a 747 jet, but weighs no more than a car. Piccard and Borschberg piloted the Solar Impulse aircraft, alternatively, beginning May 3, 2013, making city-to-city jaunts starting in San Francisco and landing in Washington D.C. 45 days later.This transcontinental flight has prepared the way for Solar Impulse’s second generation of aircraft which will fly around the world in 2015. The improved version will have a larger cockpit and everything necessary for the pilot to survive in the air for 5 or 6 days.
Finally, I will leave you with a question asked to Piccard in the June issue of “Popular Mechanics” Magazine:
Question:”What are the future applications of solar airplane technology?”
Answer: “The technologies we carry on board Solar Impulse, if they were massively used everywhere in the world, would allow people to cut in half the energy consumption of our world and produce half of the rest with renewable sources. We have the best electrical engines, the best batteries, the lightest materials for our solar structure, the best insulation materials, the most efficient lighting system, and all this can be used to build houses and cars, and for lighting, cooling and heating systems everywhere. The problem is the resistance of people against changes. Too many people are afraid of losing their habits and beliefs, so the introduction of clean technologies on the consumer market is taking far too long.”
- Solar-powered plane lands near Washington (thehimalayantimes.com)
- Solar Impulse: Moving solar energy from poetry to practicality (cenblog.org)
- Lindbergh Prize for Electric Aircraft Vision Award goes to aircraft system that SolarWorld is co-developing (solarworld-usa.com)
Tags: xl pipeline
By Lin Smith
June 16, 2013—-Producing oil from tar sands is “scraping the bottom of the barrel”, and so it is with the KeystoneXL Pipeline, a pipeline owned by a company named TransCanada, that would double the tar sands currently being transported from the oil fields of Alberta, Canada to the U.S.. The tar sands are under the Boreal Forests of Alberta, home to many species of plants and animals.The Boreal Forest not only cools the earth with its shade, it also plays an important role in preventing global warming, as the trees store and use carbon dioxide (the global warming culprit) in photosynthesis. Under the TransCanada leasing conditions, the company would have the option to lease an area the size of Florida for tar sand production.
Tar sand (or oil sand) consists of sand, sandstone, clay, and water, which are saturated with an extremely thick form of petroleum. These fields of tar sands have only recently been mined for their oil deposits, as new technology has made it possible to extract and use the oil. The tar sand oil is often called unconventional oil and is different from the traditional oil of oil wells, having a composition as thick as molasses.The oil sand is so thick it must be extracted from the earth by strip mining or by injecting steam or solvents into the sands.The mining and processing of the oil sands has negative environmental impacts, such as greenhouse gas emissions, large strip mines which “strip the land” of all natural flora, and impacts on water quality (using 2-3 barrels of water for each barrel of oil). In processing the tar sand, the water is contaminated, stored in human-made ponds, known as tailing ponds, and left to seep cyanide and ammonia back into the ground, contaminating our clean water supplies. When transported through a pipeline, the tar sand oil is mixed with lighter hydrocarbons to allow it to flow. Processing the tar sand for household use requires a processing that generates 12% more greenhouse gases per barrel than conventional oil. Currently, oil is not produced from tar sand on a large, commercial basis, but the XL Pipeline would change that, opening the spigot to allow the flow of “dirty oil” around the world. .
The pipelines of TransCanada have yet to reach a coastal port–that’s what XL would do–carry the tar sand to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. The company is currently in 56 separate eminent domain actions against landowners in Texas and South Dakota who refuse to give permission to build the Keystone Pipeline on their land. A Texas judge has given permission to TransCanada to seize the land if the owners refuse to sign an agreement with the company. Why not build the pipeline across Canada to their own coastal ports? In June 2013, British Columbia rejected the pipeline across their land. “The British Columbia government said “no” to moving half a million barrels a day across the 600 miles to their ports, stating the risk of spills to the pristine environment would pose a risk to salmon fishery and to human health”. The pipeline has been rejected by the Canadian government and approval by the U.S. is still pending. If rejected by the U.S. government, TransCanada will reportedly seek routes to the Arctic Circle for transportation purposes, shipping the tar sand to China and countries which have no regulations against burning the “dirty oil”– reaping the company enormous profits!
James Hansen, NASA climatologist testified in the U.S.congress that there is still time to save the planet and reduce the global warming villian, CO2, in our atmosphere, “but that means moving expeditiously to clean energies of our future. Moving to tar sands (oil sand), one of the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet, is a step in exactly the opposite direction, indicating either that governments don’t understand the situation or that they just don’t give a damn. People who do care need to draw the line!” Seventeen of Hansen’s fellow climate scientists have signed a letter urging President Obama to reject the pipeline, stating the pipeline is “counter to national and planetary interest.” The U.S. already imports 800,000 barrels of tar sand oil per day. The Keystone XL would import another 830,000 more barrels per day of the dirty oil. The tar sands of Canada have been estimated at 1.63 trillion barrels. If all of it was extracted from the Canadian tar sand fields, it is estimated the temperature would rise .4 degrees C or approximately 14 degrees Fahrenheit. President Obama will ultimately decide the fate of the pipeline.The southern half of the pipeline, Oklahoma to Texas, is currently under construction. The northern half is still in the proposal phase. Obama rejected the first permit for the northern project, but TransCanada resubimitted their application and a decision is expected some time in the fall of 2013.
TransCanada’s oil is a “dirty little secret” to some, called “black gold” by others, depending on a person’s affiliation with personal oil investments or their concern for the environment, but if people care about preserving our planet, it must stay in the ground!
- Greenwashing the Tar Sands, Part 3: Wherein money trumps fact every time (desmogblog.com)
- Canadian ambassador: Alberta’s oil sands crude ‘will get to market’ (fuelfix.com)
- TransCanada in Damage Control Mode Over Flaws in New Leg of Pipeline (readersupportednews.org)
- Rejecting Keystone Means Less Tar Sands Extraction, Less Carbon Pollution (sierraclub.typepad.com)
- Protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline (indybay.org)
By Lin Smith
June 9, 2013–Sustain-A-Raising is a volunteer program, neighbor helping neighbor, patterned after the old fashioned barn raising in which the community members, unpaid, help a neighbor construct a new barn. This was prevalent in the 1700’s, in North America, until the turn of the 20th century and is still ongoing today in the Amish communities. I grew up near an Amish community in Iowa, and was privileged to attend a barn raising which my friend, John, held. The result was a barn that has lasted over the years, housing various animals and many bales of hay. The community built the barn and the Amish, known for their roofing abilities, roofed it in the weeks following. Yes, we all worked together!
Sustain-A-Raiser uses the “barn raising”, community volunteer, paying-it-forward, neighbor-helping-neighbor technique to promote sustainable self-sufficiency for individuals, installing compost bins, rain barrels, clotheslines (solar dryers!), raised garden beds, solar hot water systems, and other renewable resource equipment for a person’s home and yard, one household at a time. This program even offers “zero carbon lawn maintenance”–yup! The old fashioned rotary mower!
Sustain-A-Raiser was started in 2010 by Joshua Arnold and a community of people in Lakes Region, New Hampshire, restoring an old grange hall using the barn raising method. Arnold is the Founding Director of Global Awareness Local Action (G.A.L.A), the organization behind the Sustain-A-Raiser. He states, “Looking at the coming impact of things like climate change and the economy, we want to be able to weather these challenges, to adapt, and to thrive through them. We are using the barn raising method to mobilize an unstoppable network of volunteers. The response has been really positive so far,” Arnold said. “We customize a solution for each person, and we try to address any of the physical, financial, or convenience barriers that prevent people from adopting more sustainable living.” His hope is to ignite a global movement, neighbor-helping-neighbor, in creating sustainable home and yard makeovers, helping the planet one house, one yard, at a time. “As our environmental crises continues to mount, our window of time to solve these problems quickly closes.” The window of time being the 400ppm of CO2 recently measured in our atmosphere, which is far beyond the safe limit for our planet. “We cannot afford to wait for experts or governments to solve our problems,” states Arnold.
Here’s the statistics that Sustain-A-Raiser hopes to incorporate: One clothesline can prevent 1,800 lbs. of carbon from being emitted into the atmosphere. One rain barrel can conserve 1,300 gallons of water each year (depending on your climate), one compost bin can divert 350 lbs. of food waste from the landfill yearly. Sustain-A-Raising’s goal is to get 250,000 households to follow their lead, saving 45 million lbs. of carbon from being dumped into the air by clothes dryers alone!
Sustain-A-Raiser’s emulation of the Amish community offers a “back to basics” solution we can all benefit from, individually, socially, and globally. The self-sufficiency of maintaining lawns, gardens, and homes enables people to get outside, away from technology, not only benefiting and restoring their property, but also restoring health of mind and body. It provides a way to learn new skills that are beneficial to our planet, instead of the damaging methods that have become the standard for “easier” living. The Amish think of a hard day’s work as one of the most important things in life, getting their hands dirty to maintain a household or help a neighbor maintain theirs- refusing to accept the ready-made world around them. Sustain-A-Raiser is helping people get back to the basics, helping neighbors to explore and incorporate sustainability into their every day life, returning to the old values for a healthy future!
Tags: India Gram Power
By Lin Smith
June 2, 2013—Yashraj Khaitan, 22, from India, and Jacob Dickinson, both Engineering graduates from the University of California, had a goal to create a power microgrid in India, stating, “Our smart grid technology can sustainably create access to electricity for millions of villagers in India living without this basic resource. Our mission statement: Electrify India-Intelligently”. The microgrid delivers cheap, reliable, power to Indians in villages that are poor and off-grid. The company sells power to individuals on the microgrid in units of Rupees, approximately 20 cents a day, and less than kerosene. Kerosene currently powers lamps in a million households in India, emitting smoky, toxic, fumes and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. One mother in a small village stated, “Now the children can study at night. Before, living here was like being in the jungle. Now we feel as though we are part of society.”
Gram Power, the company founded by Khaitan and Dickinson, is India’s first solar powered ‘Smart Microgrid”, installed locally in small villages of India. Microgrids are similar to the larger electrical grids, but on a smaller scale, improving efficiency, reliability, and sustainability in the distribution of electricity. In the 2012 grid failure in India, more than 700 million people were without power, yet, the tiny village of Khareda, where a year ago there was no power, had an unbroken supply of electricity. The microgrid in Khareda is powered by solar panels, which are connected to a station of batteries that store power for night or cloudy day use. Wires carry the electricity from the batteries to each house on the grid, the meters on the houses telling how much power they are using and the amount of money spent. The electricity supplied by the microgrids is prepaid, due to India losing 60% of its power to theft. The housemeters, also, “prevent people from overdrawing power and intelligently prioritize their energy use.”
Another goal of Gram Power is to reduce $900 million of diesel subsidies consumed by telecom towers in India by supplying clean power through renewable energy. By mid-2011 there were 390,000 telecom towers in India supplying 500 million cell phones. These towers are run by generators which require diesel fuel, 2 billion litres a year. The diesel fuel leaves a huge carbon footprint, dumping 5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissons into the atmosphere per year. Plans are developing with Gram Power to convert some of towers into systems powered by renewable energy.
In 2011,Gram Power was selected among the top 10 Cleantech Innovations by NASA. At the end of 2012, they had a one year agreement with the Indian government to reach 120 villages-100,000 households.
Gram Power— another company fighting for a healthy planet!
Tags: Peabody Coal: The least Eco-Friendly Company
May 26, 2013—The United States is using less coal, resulting in less CO2 emissions being released by the U.S., but to keep profits flowing, Peabody Energy is exporting their coal to other countries. Peabody Energy (previously Peabody Coal) is the largest private coal company in the U.S., and its exports to China and India are set to increase from 1 billion to 5 billion tons by 2015. Though Peabody has made a small effort to invest in the development of clean air technologies….it exports coal to over 23 countries worldwide, where coal environmental regulations aren’t as stringent as in the United States. Newsweek Magazine has ranked Peabody Coal the least eco-friendly company in the United States.
In April, protesters converged on a Peabody CEO meeting in St. Louis to protest environmental and worker contract issues saying, “Peabody attacks pensions, lands, and climate.” They also protested the impact on health, land, and water resources of the Black Mesa section of the Navajo/Hopi Reservations, where Peabody has strip mines. In the 1960’s, Peabody Coal contracted mineral and water rights on a section of the Navajo/Hopi Reservations called Black Mesa. The contract was negotiated by a lawyer, John Boyden, who claimed to represent the Hopi and Navajo people, BUT was, reportedly, on Peabody Coal Company’s payroll. The lease agreement was for 14 million tons of coal per year to provide electricity for southern California, Nevada, and central Arizona. Today, the water and air are polluted in the Black Mesa section of the Navajo/Hopi land. Following is part of a letter written January, 2013, by Navajo/Hopi elders to Peabody Executives, requesting a meeting: “The 46 year strip-mining on Black Mesa is devasating for our people. Our people are facing forced relocation because of Peabody Western Coal Co. The coal mine does not effectively extinguish coal fires to prevent the toxic gases from being emitted. The gaseous pollution endangers the health of our people….before Peabody, there were natural springs and wildlife. The natural springs are extinct now and the water is polluted. Black Mesa residents now face hauling water 30 or 40 miles to their homes and livestock….the prestine Navajo Aquifer is irreversibly damaged….the healing process can begin with Peabody Energy ceasing further coal strip mining and putting profits into solar and allowing the residents of Black Mesa to return to their way of life….the Black Mesa people have endured physical, emotional, and spiritual losses, the people struggle to survive, as the southwest cities benefit from the cheap resources of our land…tens of thousands of our people were forced to leave their land to make room for your mine, making this the biggest forced relocation of Native people since the Trail of Tears.”
Not only is Peabody Energy a polluter without a conscience, they have refused to honor their contract with their coal miners, many having poor health conditions, including Black Lung. Here’s what big corporations can get away with–Peabody has recently shifted some of their assets to a new dummy company, “Patriot Coal”, in order to keep from paying “legacy costs” to miners. “Legacy costs” are increased healthcare fees and other benefit-related costs payed to a companies’ workers and retirees. “Patriot Coal” (Peabody Coal) is now in federal court declaring bankruptcy, where they expect their debt of one billion dollars owed to their miners will be “forgiven”.
Jim Hayes, of the Sierra Club, writes, ” Peabody’s profits have increased in recent years, as it carries out more uncontrolled pollution mining and expands it’s trade worldwide, especially to China.” The only way fossil fuels will stop polluting our atmosphere is if they stay in the ground. It’s senseless for one country to make an effort to move towards renewable resources but move the culprit, coal, to countries with no regulations. It’s all the same world, and our atmosphere doesn’t know the difference. The pollution is only entering the atmosphere from a different location on our planet.
As John Prine sang in his song, Paradise, “Then the coal company came, with the world’s largest shovel, and they tortured the timber and stripped all the land. Well, they dug for their coal till the land was forsaken, then they wrote it all down as the progress of man….Mr. Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.”
Tags: From Global Warming to Extreme Weather
May 19, 2013—-Scientists won’t say any one event causes extreme weather because weather is a product of many different factors, but they do agree with the study of probability, that extreme weather is impacted by global warming and the build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere.The fact is, scientists do know, through decades of monitoring, that if there was no global warming, global temperatures would not be rising. Computers produced these results years ago, when computers first started gathering data. Data shows what the world weather would be like if it was impacted only by natural causes, with no greenhouse gas emissions, using many different models and programs. These models have measured the atmospheric temperature increase of .9 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970, caused by carbon dioxide from fossil fuels acting like the glass of a greenhouse, holding the warm air close to the earth and not letting it escape.
Scientists using these models, have also measured the rising temperature of the oceans, which have warmed by .18 degrees Fahrenheit to a depth of 2,300 feet in the past century. This is the level at which most ocean life dwells. As global temperatures increase so do ocean surface temperatures, oceans occupying 71% of the earth’s surface. Warmer temperatures lead to greater evaporation. Water vapor drives rainstorms–and this is a variable in extreme weather.
The data collected supports the fact that burning fossil fuels creates all the conveniences which have ” made life easier” since the Industrial Revolution, but, in the long run, will make life more “inconvenient” for our children and grandchildren. Scientists predict a greater frequency of droughts, floods, heat waves, sudden drops in temperature, tornadoes, hurricanes, and severe storms. Larry West states in his article, Does Climate Change Cause Extreme Weather?, “You can’t say with certainty that any single weather event is a direct effect of global warming, but you can link climate change to extreme weather trends.”
Mario J. Molina, 1995 Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry, recieved his award for establishing that CFC’s, the chemical in aerosol spray cans, were destroying the ozone layer of earth’s atmosphere. The result was the “Montreal Protocol” which entered into existence in 1989. The “Montreal Protocol” states “…certain substances can significantly deplete and, otherwise, modify the ozone layer in a manner that is likely to result in adverse effects on human health and the environment…..(this protocol) is determined to protect the ozone layer by taking precautionary measures to control total emissions of substances that deplete the ozone…” This agreement was signed by 197 states and the European Union, making it the single most successful international agreement in United Nations history.
Insert the two words ‘fossil fuels’ for CFC’s, sign a new agreement and you have the Kyoto Protocol, implemented in 2005 by the United Nations, with much political fall-out. Developing nations, such as China, (yes, it is considered a developing nation), would not be required to limit their emissions, so in 2005 the United States pulled out. The remaining 37 countries, left backing the agreement, have met their target CO2 reduction, cutting their greenhouse gases by 16%. These cuts have had little impact on the atmosphere, but these countries should serve as models for the nations that didn’t sign the Protocol, backed out of the Protocol, or didn’t produce a better solution. Worldwide emission have continued to surged by 50% since 1990, because of the earth’s worst fossil fuel offenders, China, United States, and India.
Why was the Montreal Protocol a success and the Kyoto Protocol a failure? Molina believes it was because the Montreal Protocol involved only a small set of substances and it was easy to get all nations on the same page. The economies of developed countries today, have been built around fossil fuels, making economic risks higher, especially without alternatives to maintain our economies at the present levels. He states, “It’s important that people are doing more than hearing about it. People will not change unless they feel it… experience it, by the impact of food prices, and extreme weather, such as floods, tornados, hurricanes, and rising temperatures. Unless they actually see the direction global warming is taking us.” Molina suggests a course of action that would include “phasing out” substances that cause global warming and providing less expensive alternative energy.
At this point in time, there seems to be greater global impact by grassroots groups, putting pressure on universities, cities, and countries to divest in fossil fuels. If individuals and corporations have to “feel” the impact for change to happen, then this movement may provide the force necessary for the economies to reverse direction, along with waking up to the forces of nature.
By Lin Smith
May 12, 2013—Iowa is my homeland, so I must confess my pride for its people in moving forward with the Renewable Energy Revolution. I grew up on an Iowa farm in the “gently rolling hills” where the wind blew on top of our hill most of the year. We didn’t have a windmill but you could see them on other farms across the landscape. My Uncle Bob had a steel-bladed windmill that pumped up well water for the livestock. Around 1870, the development of this steel blade made windmills more efficient, as the blades were lighter than the traditional wooden blades and steel was cheap.They worked so well that a slow-down gear had to be added to keep the blades at the required speed. The windmill! I can still hear the sound of the blades turning gently, creaking slightly, emitting a soothing sound across the quiet hills of Iowa. I love returning to Iowa, seeing the highways lined with a new generation of windmill–the wind turbine, standing 400 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty’s torch, with blades reaching a speed of 100 miles per hour!
Today, Iowa ranks third in installed wind power capacity in the U. S., only behind Texas and California, but first per capita, as Texas and California have greater populations. Randy Caviness, of Greenfield, Iowa, wanted to start a co-op wind farm for himself and his neighbors. He initiated the development of the eight utility-scale wind turbines with community ownership,180 people in the small towns of Greenfield and Fontanelle. Folks in these towns pooled their money to buy shares in eight wind turbines, delivering enough energy to power 6,000 Iowa homes. This wind farm also gives back to the shareholders with a 16% return on their investments, and costing them half as much as they were paying their local coal and gas powered utilities companies. Iowa has a 10 year tax credit for small wind power projects and the counties have a 7 year property tax incentive. The incentives enable wind power in Iowa to be a less expensive source of electricity and create 7,000 jobs.
Iowa’s largest energy provider is Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy, which leads the U.S. in wind power. MidAmerican Energy recently announced they will spend $1.9 billion to install hundreds more wind turbines in Iowa by 2015. Terry Branstad, governor of Iowa, stated, ” As wind energy grows, so does the economy of Iowa.” The new wind turbines will power 40% of the household energy and make Iowa a model for other states to follow. `”Through the ages, wind has filled our sails, lifted our wings, and thrilled our soles. Now, with rapid advances in turbine technology, it’s propelling us into a world beyond fossil fuels. It’s a profitable, practical source of electricity, jobs, and energy independence.” said Edward Humes, writer for the Sierra Club.
Again, I am proud of Iowa for taking the lead in clean energy, as the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing rapidly due to the burning of fossil fuels. John Hidore has stated in his book, Climatology, An Atmospheric Science , “There has been controversy, with some scientists taking a view that the case for global warming is overstated, nonetheless, there is a general consensus that global warming is real, with the major areas of disagreement being the interpretation of the rate at which it is occurring and the extent of the impacts of that increase. Also, the United States contributes more carbon to the atmosphere than 150 of the smaller countries of the world combined….acting on this some states are taking steps to reduce their emission”….That would be Iowa!
By Lin Smith
May 5, 2013-In the past 6 months organizers have begun campaigns on universities and in cities across the U. S. to divest in fossil fuels. Over 300 campuses and 100 cities are now looking at divesting and this movement has spread to Australia, Nederlands, and Britain. University students have stated, “It’s wrong for public institutions to teach and support environmental awareness but yet profit from damaging the environment.”
The goal of the Divestment Campaign 350 is to “Challenge individuals and institutions to sell their stock in oil, gas, and coal producing companies because their current business model is leading to global catastrophe.” It’s the opposite of investment. It’s the movement currently taking place across the United States to divest their endowment funds from fossil fuels and place them in investments that support a healthy planet.
What is a university endowment fund? Each university has money that is invested for the long term in different ways, much in oil and gas. It is money received from donors with the stipulation that the principal stay invested but the other moneys can be used as a never-ending source of support for purposes of the university. In 2007, over 60 universities had endowment investments of $1 billion or more. It is used to support faculty, programs, and student scholarships. This is the money that students across the United States are demonstrating for, to encourage the universities to sell their stock in fossil fuels to promote environmental change and place their investments in planet-healthy funds.
An example of demonstrating to divest took place in the 1980s, anti-apartheid protesters wanted to end the oppression in South Africa. The movement first consisted of demonstrations only, but people in the movement discovered greater impact could be made on South Africa by pressuring their universities to divest stocks of companies doing business with South Africa. They were able to gain attention to the problems facing this country. By the end of the 1980s, 155 colleges had at least partially divested, with 90 cities, 22 countries, and 26 states taking some form of economic stance against the South African government. After drawing public attention to South Africa with these divestments, the U.S. government passed economic sanctions against the South African government. In the next 5 years 200 companies cut ties, ending South Africa’s business-as-usual, enabling blacks the right to vote. Nelson Mandela, after being jailed for 27 years as an anti-aparthied revolutionary, was elected the first black South African president! So can public pressure to divest work? South Africa is a good example of what a grass roots movement can accomplish!
Finally, unless individuals and institutions specifically direct their investment managers not to invest in fossil fuels, they will most likely hold stocks in them, either directly or indirectly, as these stocks make up at least 15% of the U.S. market, i.e., mining, coal and oil burning utilities, oil drilling, ect. There are investment companies that support clean energy- one such company is
Portfolio 21. Its president, John Streur has said it well, “Investing in fossil fuels today seems like investing in the whaling industry in the mid 1800s–old technology, still dominant but clearly not the future. Our ability to power the global economy beyond the current age of fossil fuels will be the most important and difficult transformation ever made by our industrial society!”