City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Fossil Free Europe Tour Brings Divestment Message To Edinburgh


By Allan Alstead - Posted on 01 November 2013

Bill McKibben by Steve Liptay

The e-mail trailer for said "Time to make some noise" and followed this with the comment "On Sunday, we’ll start our tour across Northern Europe and kick off the loudest and most effective divestment campaign the region has seen in a generation."

Well, the Edinburgh stop in Fossil Free Europe tour was certainly jumping with the introductory music accompanying the climate change film that preceded Bill McKibben's talk.

There was an audience of about three hundred, mainly students, at the Assembly Hall on the Mound but with a representation of older people - some of whom appeared to find the extreme volume of the music too much and left. Pity, given the gripping talk Bill McKibben was about to give. (The music and singing appeared to go down well with the mainly younger audience.)

One of the aims of the evening was to launch Operation Noah which is an ecumenical Christian charity providing leadership, focus and inspiration in response to the growing threat of catastrophic climate change. It is billed as being, "faith motivated, science informed and hope inspired."

But the highlight of the evening was certainly Bill McKibben of 350.org and he gave the audience a very clear message that the 1°c increase in temperature that the world has already experienced, leading to the summer melting of so much more of the polar icecap and the 30% increase in the acidity of the oceans, cannot be reversed (at least, not for generations).

He reminded the audience that it had been one of the hottest summers on record and in the United States so many crops had failed that it will have a wider impact than might initially be expected.

He went on to talk about limitation of the problem globally, reminding us that the one thing that came out of the failed Copenhagen talks on climate change was the (non-legally binding) agreement by countries that world temperatures should not be allowed to increase by more than 2°c and that any increase above this level would cause a widespread rise in the levels of the oceans and lead to widespread flooding of low lying countries.

The second figure he gave was 565 which was the amount of carbon dioxide in gigatons that the world can burn to stay within the 2°c cut-off level.

But the third figure was the most frightening one which was of 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide which represents the fuel stocks that are already known in the hands of the fossil fuel companies.

The valuation of the world's oil, coal, and gas companies on stock markets depends on estimates of their fossil fuel reserves, and right now the markets are assuming that these fossil fuel assets will be burned. (See Carbon Tracker's concise explanation of the "Carbon Bubble")

To make any change would need world action as the economic consequences of a stock devaluation of the energy giants would destroy the stability of the economy.

McKibben made a plea for everyone to spread the message that the world needs to diversify much more quickly away from fossil fuels and that exploration for additional fossil fuel needs to be halted.

He spoke of the great support that the cause had received in the United States and the help he had received from Al Gore amongst others. He felt that there was a really good chance that the campaign would take off in Europe and he was much heartened by the support that he had received so far.

Flick Mark from Edinburgh University also spoke and said that her group were exerting pressure on the University to divest itself of its fossil fuel investments.

She was followed by Ben Kurzman who made a plea to "love your neighbour" as the Bible states and he said that his group were pressing the Church of Scotland to get rid of all its fossil fuel investments.

There is no doubt that Bill McKibben has a vital message to get across, but with the world economy so fragile, he has an uphill struggle ahead of him.

The final leg in Bill McKibben's Fossil Fuel Europe Tour will be webcast from London

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We will probably face a period of global economic depression if governments actually take the kind of action on climate change in the timeframe that is required (very big "if" as the markets are telling us).

On the other hand, we will bequeath a planet in a state of collapse to future generations with depleted resources and mass extinctions.

Not much of a choice really is it? But weaning ourselves off carbon presents many opportunities whether you look at it from the point of view of cleaner air in our cities or the business opportunities from moving to clean energy economy. Don't think that message about opportunity has really got across yet.