The climatic victories of 2021 which put fossil fuels under control | Divestment from fossil fuels
After a year of record-breaking climate disasters and a grim prognosis from the world’s top experts warning the planet has already suffered “irreversible” damage, a movement is gathering momentum to force change. As the UN Secretary General said in August, the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions is the “death knell” for the fossil fuel industry.
For decades, Americans have been told that it is not possible to stand up to the powerful oil and gas companies. But the reality is that ordinary people are making a difference in the fight to reduce emissions. These popular victories also show that people who have been made most vulnerable by fossil fuel extraction, including black and brown communities, already have solutions at hand.
Here is a summary of their accomplishments over the past year.
Large institutions with large financial stakes in fossil fuel mining companies divested their assets
Significant victory: The divestment movement is sweeping through Massachusetts.
After a highly controversial nine-year organizational battle, students at Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard managed to push the university to divest itself of its entire $ 42 billion endowment – the largest in the world – from related companies. to fossil fuels.
Other universities like Boston University (BU) and Wellesley University have also moved away from fossil fuels this year. Wellesley’s achievement comes after nearly a decade of student activism from campus groups called Renew Wellesley and Fossil Free Wellesley. The university has agreed to end investments in fossil fuels for the next two decades.
For BU, the lag is important. When the student-led group DivestBU was first launched eight years ago, university president Robert Brown argued divestment was not possible. But after a “long journey,” Brown admitted in September that activists had succeeded in convincing the board of trustees to step aside and put the university “on the right side of history.”
Meanwhile, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu signed an ordinance in late November to phase out the city’s investments in the fossil fuel, tobacco and prison industries by 2025.
Why is this important: “This is a very clear testament to the power of persistence and organizing young people,” says Ilana Cohen, a junior at Harvard and organizer of Fossil Free Divest Harvard. “The way we got the divestment was to make it fundamentally unaffordable for the university to maintain its intransigent and fundamentally unfounded position, as well as its immoral position on the issue. “
Local communities are organizing to push back extractive companies that set up in their neighborhoods
Significant victory: A predominantly black neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee has delayed construction of the 49-mile Byhalia Connection underground pipeline that was due for approval in mid-2021.
Residents had asked local, state and federal authorities to reject the permit after officials from the pipeline company said construction in the historically black Boxtown was the “path of least resistance.” The company later withdrew its permit application for the project, citing low oil production caused by the pandemic.
In the northeast, the multi-state environmental organization known as the Delaware River Basin Commission has formalized a moratorium on new drilling permits, an action local environmentalists have called “historic.” The new fracking ban covers the nearly 14,000 square miles of the river basin.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles County Supervisory Board voted unanimously in September to abandon new and existing oil and gas drilling projects. The new rule is expected to impact the Inglewood oil field, the country’s largest urban oil field, which is surrounded by many predominantly black neighborhoods. In April, an oil pipeline to the oilfield spilled 1,600 gallons of oil a few hundred feet from the nearest playground.
“There are tens of thousands of people living near oil wells, 73% of whom are people of color,” supervisor Holly J Mitchell, who drafted the motion, told The Associated Press. “So for me it’s really a question of fairness.”
Why is this important: Justin J Pearson, one of the organizers of the Memphis Pipeline campaign, says their victory shows the power of the people still reigns.
“When the voices of those who have been most excluded and marginalized become the primary voices for change in championing the cause of environmental justice, everyone benefits,” he said. “In Memphis we shut down a pipeline, but we really catalyzed a movement for justice and change. “
Activist investors have used their collective power to force big oil companies to change from within
Significant victory: Hedge fund activists have claimed three of the 12 voting seats on Exxon’s board of directors.
Climate activists and dissident investors successfully executed a shareholder rebellion within ExxonMobil and Chevron last spring, to protest the continued inaction of companies to significantly reduce carbon emissions.
Activist hedge fund Engine No 1 scored a life-changing victory electing three new directors to Exxon’s board after disgruntled investors hoped to push the oil giant into a greener future.
Meanwhile, Chevron faced opposition from the Dutch militant campaign group Follow This, which led a shareholder revolt by voting to force the company to implement stricter emissions targets.
Why is this important: Mark van Baal, founder of Follow This, said the shareholder rebellions marked a “paradigm shift” for investors and a “victory in the fight against climate change“.
Indigenous groups negotiated the return of lands traditionally managed and stolen to stop the destruction of the environment
Significant victory: The Passamaquoddy tribe repurchased 150 acres of land that was stolen in the late 19th century by settler-settlers.
The Passamaquoddy lands, which cover a rural island in eastern Maine, were used for real estate development and timber production. But instead, the Maine chapter of The Nature Conservancy, a US-based global environmental organization, provided the tribal government with the funds to purchase the land.
And in Minnesota, the state returned 120 acres of land to the Lower Sioux Indian community. The United States had broken the Treaty of Mendota of 1851, shared with the Mdewakantons and the Dakota Wahpekute bands, colonizing the newly repatriated lands. In response, the tribes pushed the federal government to stick to its end of the deal. This led to the Dakota War of 1862, in which the United States executed 38 Dakota men – the largest mass hanging in American history.
Why is this important: This move is a milestone in US governing bodies recognizing past wrongs and how those atrocities are contributing to the present day.
“They should let the Lower Sioux have the whole site,” said Pamela Halverson, a citizen of Lower Sioux, who was once the tribe’s historic preservation officer. “I would like to see a complete liberation of all lands.”
Climate activists have leveraged the legal system to help enforce emissions cuts
Significant victory: A Dutch court ruled that Shell was legally obliged to cut its emissions by almost half during this decade.
A Dutch court issued a landmark ruling in May to force Royal Dutch Shell, one of the world’s 10 biggest polluters, to cut emissions by 45% by 2030. Although the court did not find the company had broken the laws, he said Shell had endangered human lives, violating the country’s civil codes.
Another courtroom victory in 2021 was won by the 16 young plaintiffs in Held v State of Montana, a lawsuit alleging that Montana contributed to the climate crisis and violated their constitutional rights.
It is the first such case to go to trial, which could set a precedent for similar lawsuits aimed at holding the government accountable for climate change. The young people, now aged four to 20, lodged a first complaint in March 2020 and asked the state to implement a plan to reduce emissions.
Why is this important: “At this political point where our governments, both federal and Montana, are determined to continue to depend on fossil fuels, we look to our courts to protect [our] constitutional rights, ”says Grace Gibson-Snyder, 18, and one of the young complainants. “We have this opportunity to present the whole story of the government behind climate change. “