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Do the Math

Do the Math, which premiered on April 21, tells the story of the climate change movement, with an emphasis on Bill McKibben, the founder of McKibben is also a journalist and author. His first book, The End of Nature, which was published in 1989, is considered the first book about climate change written for a lay audience. In 2008, he and some friends founded, an organization devoted to combating climate change.

The first part of the movie covers the Do the Math tour, during which McKibben gave talks about his July 19 Rolling Stone article, "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math," in which he explained the fossil fuel industry's role in climate change. In his article and during his tour, McKibben emphasizes three vital numbers.

The first, 2°C, which equals 3.6° F, is the absolute maximum global temperature increase Earth can experience without causing catastrophic problems. Anything higher could devastate civilization as we know it.

The second number is 565 gigatons, the maximum amount of carbon humans can pump into the air and still keep the global temperature increase below 2°C. At our current rate of fossil fuel consumption, we will likely reach this limit within 15 years.

The third number, 2,795 gigatons, is the amount of reserves the fossil fuel companies have. These reserves are coal, oil, and natural gas that are still in the ground-- but the fossil fuel companies plan on extracting and burning them. In order to keep climate change under control, we have to keep 80% of the reserves in the ground.

The second part of the movie concerns the Keystone XL pipeline , which would transport tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast. It would be about 2,000 miles long and cut through six states.

Critics of the pipeline point out the risk of spills. Building the pipeline would also represent a redoubled commitment to fossil fuels, when we should be switching over to renewables. McKibben stresses the folly of continuing to subsidize fossil fuels. In February, McKibben and over 40 other protestors were arrested outside the White House for demonstrating against the pipeline.

The final part of the movie concerns divestment. McKibben points out that politicians aren't responding to the climate crisis because the fossil fuel companies contribute to their campaigns, send lobbyists, and otherwise persuade them not to respond. Expecting the politicians to do otherwise is probably not realistic.

On the other hand, divestment could work. In divestment, a person, organization, or business stops investing money in an entity they consider wrong or unethical. It was used against South Africa in the 1980's to protest apartheid.

By encouraging churches, towns, colleges, and other entities to divesting or withdraw their financial support from the fossil fuel companies, McKibben hopes to pressure them into not extracting their reserves and possibly switching over to green energy development. In November, 2012, Unity College of Maine became the first college to divest in fossil fuels. In January, 2013, Seattle became the first city to divest.

While McKibben is the focus, the movie also features climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, attorney and author Van Jones (The Green Collar Economy), author Naomi Klein (The Shock Doctrine), and Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club.

He was arrested at the February protest of the Keystone XL pipeline-- the first time a Sierra Club leader had been arrested for civil disobedience in the organization's 130 year history.

The movie is only 42 minutes long, and it packs a lot into those minutes. The main thrust is that continuing to use fossil fuels at our present rate of consumption is not sustainable-- but the fossil fuel companies are obstructing any attempts at change.

They could be leading it instead. In World War II, automobile companies shifted from making cars to making tanks and airplanes-- and they had made that shift in a matter of months.

Given their wealth and resources, fossil fuel companies could easily start making solar panels or wind turbines rather than extract more oil or coal.

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