Posted by: JanF | November 30, 2012

Doing The Math from Madison WI: “I kind of wanted to live my life”

Last night I had the opportunity to attend the Do The Math Tour event when it arrived in Madison WI. It had a Bus, a Building, and, best of all, Bill … Bill McKibben of

A bus and a building

Bill McKibben and his plan

Here is The Math, in a nutshell.

It’s simple math: we can burn less than 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide and stay below 2°C of warming — anything more than that risks catastrophe for life on earth. The only problem? Fossil fuel corporations now have 2,795 gigatons in their reserves, five times the safe amount. And they’re planning to burn it all — unless we rise up to stop them.

The presentation was eye opening and the number that kept haunting me was “15 years”. In 15 years, enough of that fossil fuel will have been burned to destroy the livability of our planet. And it will not just be waking up one morning, 15 years from now, and saying “Wow, our planet is now unlivable!!”. It will be Hurricane Katrinas and Superstorm Sandys and Midwest Droughts of the Century Decade Past Week … and tornadoes, floods, unbearable heat, unbearable cold, food shortages … leading up to “our planet is now unlivable”.

This morning over breakfast, I shared with my teenage daughter a little about the presentation and mentioned to her that at our present rate the earth would be destroyed within 15 years. She said “That’s too bad, I kind of wanted to live my life”. (To be fair, she was also doing something on her iPod and may not have been paying complete attention — curse you, Angry Birds! — so her comment was a bit understated). Yet this really struck me.

“I kind of wanted to live my life”.

Yeah, me too.

One image in particular from the presentation made me want to weep:

The White House itself once harvested the power of the sun. On June 20, 1979, the Carter administration installed 32 panels designed to harvest the sun’s rays and use them to heat water.

Here is what Carter predicted at the dedication ceremony: “In the year 2000 this solar water heater behind me, which is being dedicated today, will still be here supplying cheap, efficient energy…. A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken or it can be just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people.

We could have made that a great and exciting adventure. Instead we got Ronald Reagan and 30 years that not only put the middle-class at risk of extinction but strangled the nascent green energy movement in its crib. And despite the efforts of environmentalists over those 30 years (including Clean Wisconsin, one of the sponsors of last night’s event), we have still not broken through in any meaningful way.

The presentation included a video from Naomi Klein who discussed how long people had been engaged in environmental activism and a bit about how discouraging it was to be ignored when they thought they were seriously effecting change. She forcefully made the case for the time being now to actually make that change and used these words:

“Remember this day … this is when we got serious”

That call to action (“This is when we got serious”), together with the words of my daughter (“I kind of wanted to live my life”), should galvanize us. I kind of want her, and all of us, to live our lives, too. Let’s do this.


More images from the event:

View of the stage from the Uecker Seats

And no diary from Madison WI would be complete without a photo of the Capitol, this one on my walk back to my car after the event.

Capitol from Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Madison WI



Madison, WI continues the trend

Updates from the Road Blog – November 30, 2012

Before I wax poetic about our evening in Madison, I should clarify that I don’t think there was anything particularly different about this stop. The energy was through the roof, which it was in Columbus and Chicago as well. (I imagine it was similar in previous stops too, but I wasn’t on the bus then.) The divestment toolkits flew off the table, the crowd was on their feet at least 3 times, and the college organizers were astounding, but none of this is new.

What made Madison so different for me was the realization that the energy in Columbus and Chicago was not a rarity. People really are this excited to get to work. The divestment movement really is catching hold, and campus organizers are truly as motivated and wonderful as they seem over email. The realization that this divestment movement has grown legs and taken off gives me a fantastic case of the goosebumps. I was fortunate enough to get a small green felt triangle, adorned only with the letter “D”, which is a symbol for this divestment movement. This pin began in Boston, on area campuses, and has traveled through the network of college divestment movements to Madison. I’m hoping to see more of them on the road, and have mine pinned proudly to my all-access pass.

Friends, we’re going to take down the fossil fuel industry. And we’re going to do so with so-called ‘average Americans’, who have shown themselves to be amazing and inspiring people, in Madison and beyond. I cannot wait to meet the folks in Minneapolis tomorrow, and absolutely believe in the power of these organizers to get their colleges, towns, and religious institutions to divest. 3 cheers for all!


From Duncan Meisel at


Thank you for helping start something special.

Here’s where we go from here:

Folks across the country are launching into divestment campaigns right away. There are dozens of campaigns underway on campuses already. If you’re at all inspired by the example set out by Unity College and others, you can begin your campaign to divest your school, church or any other community institution right now by clicking here:
Here’s a message from our friends at 350 Madison about how to get connected with their work:

350 Madison invites you to join our chapter. We meet on the first Monday of the month, and the next meeting is on 12/3, 7-8:30pm, at UW Science Hall (550 N. Park St., room 175).

We’ve just launched a campaign to get the UW Foundation (Madison’s endowment fund with $2.5 billion in assets) to divest from holdings in the fossil fuel industry. You can help us get signatures on our petition to the Foundation, and join us when we bring them to the Foundation on Monday December 3rd. Here’s how:

Download the petition at and collect as many signatures as you can this weekend.
Drop off completed petitions by 9pm on 12/2 in the box inside the door at 1137 Erin St.
Deliver Petition to UW Foundation office at 1848 University Ave – we’ll meet outside the building on 12/3 at 9:45am.
Contact us at for other ways to get involved with the divestment campaign and other local actions.

For those of you who don’t happen to live in Madison, organizer Janina Klimas is available to help you start your divestment campaign with style and strength. If you want a training or other help to get your divestment work off the ground, you can reach Janina at

There will be a lot coming up in the coming months about Keystone XL, but in case you didn’t bring your calendar to the event, here’s a reminder: we’re going to have the biggest mobilization of the campaign on President’s Day weekend in mid-February, and we want you to be there.

Also, since you were here as we turned the page to the next chapter of our movement, you’ll be the first to know when some of the bigger plans — like marching on Exxon’s headquarters — come to fruition, so keep an eye on your inbox too.

As Bill said, right now we have the opportunity to do what is unquestionably the most important thing that anyone can be doing, in the most important place that anyone can be doing it.

Let’s live up to that. Let’s go big.