Bill McKibben and 350.org continued the Do the Math tour across the U.S. with an East Coast and Midwest leg through the end of November and into December. All 22 shows sold out, from Portland, Maine, to Atlanta to Salt Lake City.
This was my first time on the road, and I must admit – after a dozen or so shows on two coasts, I was beginning to feel the pinch. The thing that keeps you going is all the great folks you meet along the way. I got to visit the home-studio for This American Life in Chicago, and later Ira Glass climbed on board to do some reporting.
One highlight (of course) was having the great author and 350.org board member Naomi Klein with us in Boston and New York. She did a lot of the big thinking to help get us prepared to do this work, and it was so good to have her (and her quite handsome son Toma) on the East Coast.
Our first bus ran in to mechanical troubles so we picked up a new ride in New York City, which then carried us down the East Coast and then across the dry plains of the Midwest, then through the Rockies and down in to the Salt Lake Valley. Overall, a very powerful reminder of the sweet earth we're fighting for, and all the unique ways it's at risk.
Boston was our largest show – 2400 seats filled, many of them by students from Boston's thriving student movement. Special note: The last time I was in the Orpheum, it was to see the Ramones in 1981. And we saw results! Not long after, Harvard Undergrads voted overwhelmingly in favor of divestment (though their administration immediately declined to do anything about it).
The show had my name across the front, but we couldn't have done it without the support of so many other groups. Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune joined us in Berkeley and then in North Carolina, and we're already planning a big demonstration in Washington on President's Day with them in the lead.
We got a lot done on the road. 350.org is really more a network or campaign than an organization, and local groups used every stop to help build on their own work. I particularly love the line on this sheet here: "You have a role to play" – one of the most important messages we can be sending!
One critique of all this I've heard is the notion that students are more apathetic than in the past, and I just don't get it — it’s their future on the line, and I see them doing more than ever. This is really their fight.
Ever since Superstorm Sandy hit, we had our eye on our New York City visit. The storm left us all reeling, and changed the debate about climate in important ways. Arriving to see this cavernous hall in front of us was daunting in a different way, but we managed to fill every seat with folks who were, understandably, very fired up.
It was a great pleasure to have the incredibly hard working folks from Occupy Sandy on hand in New York to connect with new volunteers and pick up some donations. Their work is some of the most important to come out of the storm.
We started the Midwest leg in Columbus, Ohio, joined on stage by glaciologist Jason Box, who has both spent more time on Greenland than just about anyone of his generation, but also was arrested at the Tar Sands Action last summer trying to do something to stop the melting as well.
The bus functioned as dining room, sleeping quarters and office space. I know some real rockstars out there travel with 10 or more at once, but were snug with about 6 folks on board at any given time.
love Madison, Wis., and the folks there put on quite a welcome. The show was in this beautiful, labyrinthian Masonic hall, and the Overpass Light Brigade brought out their signs to welcome the overflow crowd.
Another of my favorite people in this movement is Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip-Hop Caucus who helped anchor some of our Midwest shows. He's a more talented orator than I, and helped bring out the story of the movement against Apartheid with great moral force.
350 Madison sprung out of work against the Keystone XL pipeline last year and is already one of the strongest local groups in the country.
It turns out that holding people's attention for two hours as you talk about the biggest problem we've ever faced isn't the easiest. We did a lot of refining of the script and flow. I like to think that we got it down by the end, as tough as it is to win a few laughs out of folks when talking about all this.
An old friend of mine, Winona LaDuke, an extraordinary advocate, speaker and organizer, lives not far from Minneapolis, and joined us on stage there and also in Boulder, Colo. She has first hand knowledge of the impact of fossil fuel development on native lands, and the power of a divestment movement, which she was a part of when we were in school together.
The 350.org staff worked quite hard to make this real, taking time away from friends and family to be on the road.
One sign of the increasing attention paid to this issue was the press that popped up at every show. It seems that after a winter without snow, a blazing summer and a superstorm or two, the mainstream press is beginning to do their jobs a bit better on this issue.
The good folks of Nebraska are some of the fiercest fighters around — they're doing everything they can to keep Keystone from wrecking the beautiful sandhills and Ogallala aquifer, which are so crucial to their state.
The day we arrived in Omaha, Neb., a state agency declared that 100% of the state was now in extreme drought, up from 99.67% the day before. I suspect that explains why were filling overflow seating even as the Husker football team was playing in the Big 10 championship.
Our last stop was Salt Lake City, home to some of our favorite allies, Peaceful Uprising, which was started by Tim DeChristopher, now out of prison and on house arrest — I even managed a visit to the bookstore where he's now working. (Our traditional beer skit was altered somewhat to comply with the state's tight alcohol laws.)
Another treat: Terry Tempest Williams, a dear friend and extraordinary writer, met us to give an introduction to the show and set the tone for a fight that will define Utah for the next century.
The filmmaker Josh Fox, director of Gasland, was on the bus for about six stops, shooting a concert film of the tour for us to use as an organizing tool for the months ahead.
Last impressions: What a ride. I think we moved the needle, just a little bit — before we finished, students at over 150 campuses started up divestment campaigns, and we even won a few crucial victories. I'm really looking forward to what comes next.
Bill McKibben and 350.org hit the road the day after the election to kick off an ambitious new campaign to divest colleges, universities and other institutions from fossil fuels. Supported by a rotating crew of supporting speakers and musicians, the tour will reach 21 cities across the country.
"It's called the Do the Math tour, but it's not a calculus class. Think of it as more of a campaign rally meets TED talk, with a very dire warning about the future attached." –Bill McKibben
"Part of this tour is acknowledging that we're near the end of the fight – for good or ill – against climate change. After a couple years of traveling the world with 350, I'm feeling a bit weary, but it's nothing compared with the strain the planet is going through as it begins to overheat." –B.M.
"We started the night after the election – which was a message in itself – but also a bit of a bummer. After a nice handful of wins, it's tough to spend a few weeks reminding our friends about how we are still losing quite badly in this most important of fights." –B.M.
"One of the groups of people we're really trying to reach are students. There are dozens of divestment campaigns underway in places from the Northeast to the deep South to the far West. Our friends at Unity College have led the way and already promised to divest their endowment from fossil fuels." –B.M.
Everyone who attends the Do the Math tour is invited to contribute – from creating banner art, to starting mini-movements on campus, to joining mass actions against fossil fuel industries just over the horizon.
"The math refers to the climate math I first wrote about in Rolling Stone this summer. There are three key numbers: 2 degrees Celsius, the last safe target for warming, the reddest of red lines; 595 gigatons, which is the amount of carbon we can emit and still stay below 2 degrees; and 2795 gigatons – the amount that the fossil fuel industries are planning to burn now." –B.M.
Bill is joined by musical guests like Nahko from Medicine for the People (pictured) in Seattle, and Paul Miller (aka DJ Spooky) at stops along the East Coast and elsewhere.
"One tool that we have right now is the tool of divestment – if it is wrong for the fossil fuel industries to wreck the planet, it is certainly wrong for our schools to be profiting from it. This is a tool that has worked at least once, to take down apartheid, and it's a critical part of drawing a moral line in the sand against the most dangerous industry on earth." –B.M.
"There's a practical dimension to this as well. If university presidents are serious about working for the future of their students, they shouldn't be investing in companies out to ruin that future. It just doesn't make sense." –B.M.
Pictured: Students from the Claremont schools just outside Los Angeles have already built one of the strongest campaigns in the country. They rallied just outside the L.A. tour stop.
"We use a very simple analogy for this stuff. Two degrees Celsius is like the legal drinking limit. It's not wise to get near it, but we've agreed it's the limit – 565 gigatons of carbon is like the several beers it takes to reach that limit in a night." –B.M.
"The cases of beer represent the carbon that the fossil fuel industries are prepared to burn – including the bottom of the barrel stuff like Keystone. If a driver was five times over the legal drinking limit, they would lose their license. We think it's time for the fossil fuel industry to lose their social license – their veneer or respectability." –B.M.
"Here's the bottom line: the fossil fuel industry gets away with running our planet because of their money. They make so much of it because, in a word, they cheat – they don't pay for producing the most dangerous pollution the planet has ever seen. Everyone else cleans up after themselves." –B.M.
"We've sold out every show so far, which I didn't necessarily expect, which means we've been able to connect with thousands of folks. Word from our field organizers is that everyone is leaving quite ready to do more, which is exactly what we need right now." –B.M.
"Our West Coast leg was just amazing: out of the gate with five straight sold-out shows, driving through the impressive beauty of the Pacific coast on our biodiesel bus – a truly wonderful start to the tour." –B.M.
"We have a little tradition for every show: 'Family photos' that help show how much our movement is growing as we travel the country. I must say, seeing this photo from our first stop in Seattle was incredibly impressive, and every show since has been just as packed and full of energy." –B.M.