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FIGHT THE POWER A few local change agents.

Something major happened in the Providence City Council Chamber on Thursday, June 20.

Under the guidance of Councilman Seth Yurdin and Council President Michael Solomon and inspired by divestment campaigns at Brown, RISD, URI, RIC, and CCRI, Providence passed a resolution calling for the city’s investment board to produce a plan for divesting from the biggest 200 fossil fuel companies within five years. In doing so, it became the biggest city on the East Coast and only the second capital city in the US (along with Madison, Wisconsin) to make such a commitment.

It’s a big frackin’ deal when a city like Providence tells the oil men to take their dirty money and shove it.

A bit of background: 25 years ago, when I was 10 years old, I presented a Matunuck Elementary School fifth-grade science fair project on carbon dioxide and the greenhouse effect. This was the same year — 1988 — that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change formed at the United Nations to assess the impacts of climate change and possible strategies to mitigate and adapt to it. Coincidentally, it was also the year that the world surpassed 350 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere, the level that climate scientists have since determined is the highest concentration we can afford if we want a climate conducive to human civilization.

Fast forward 25 years, when humankind is collectively dumping 50 percent more carbon into the air every year. In May, we breached the ominous level of 400 ppm. Remaining on our current course would lead to an estimated 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit of global heating (6 Centigrade) above pre-industrial levels by 2100, three times the 3.6 degree goal that was agreed upon in the Copenhagen Accord of 2009.

A potential six-foot sea level rise will eat up the coastline of the Ocean State. Can Little Rhody afford to get littler? It is now appropriate to freak out.

Our half-hearted attempts to reduce carbon emissions through federal legislation, individual efficiency action, and shareholder activism have gone nowhere. In fact the political power of the fossil fuel industry is such that our government gives them billions of dollars annually in subsidies. This is an industry that, left to its own devices, will sell us enough coal, oil, and gas to obliterate any hope of staying under a 3.6-degree global temperature increase. The proven reserves of the fossil fuel industry are already more than five times the 565 gigatons that scientists estimate we can safely burn before 2050, and they’re spending billions exploring for more. And, I repeat, we are giving them money to speed them on.

The task of everyone who wants to pass a planet worth living to their grandkids, therefore, is to find a way to keep 80 percent of the fossil fuel industry’s reserves in the ground and to stop any further dirty energy development. This is where fossil fuel divestment comes in.

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    Something major happened in the Providence City Council Chamber on Thursday, June 20.

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