350.org, fossil fuel divestment, and the campaign in a box


in Economics, History, PhD thesis, Politics, The environment

From a social movement perspective, one of the most interesting things about 350.org’s fossil fuel divestment campaign is how they have proliferated the strategy among (often newly formed) independent groups.

One mechanism has been written documents. Bill McKibben told me that reading the Carbon Tracker Initiative’s 2011 report “Unburnable Carbon: Are the World’s Financial Markets Carrying a Carbon Bubble?” was part of what prompted him and Naomi Klein to start promoting fossil fuel divestment. One of the main ways he got attention for the idea was his 2012 Rolling Stone article: “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.”

350.org also undertook a “Do the Math” tour in 2012, visiting 21 cities in part to seed divestment campaigns.

350.org and other NGOs that worked to proliferate fossil fuel divestment held convergences for university divestment organizers at Swarthmore College (where Swarthmore Mountain Justice had first tried using divestment against mountaintop removal coal mining) in 2013, as well as in San Francisco and Montreal in 2014.

There are also written materials on setting up and advancing campaigns. A campus guide was released in 2012 and a trainers’ handbook in 2013. There has also been a similar document on their gofossilfree website since 2016.

I won’t get into analysis of the implications of this approach to organizing here, but I was prompted to write this because I have found the “campaign in a box” idea strangely undocumented online, despite how I thought it was a widely discussed feature of the movement.

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