At 7 pm on Monday, October 14th, Fossil Free Rhode Island (FFRI) kicked off its campaign to push the University of Rhode Island to divest from fossil fuels with a screening of Do the Math, the ground-breaking new documentary from 350.org about the climate movement, to a packed house in Weaver Auditorium on the Kingston campus. “We stood … and we sat in the aisles to see Do the Math and to celebrate that fossil fuel divestment will come to URI,” I exclaimed enthusiastically even as I do physics at URI.
Tommy Viscione from Rotaract hosted, introducing Bianca Piexoto, President of Student Action for Sustainability (SAS), Evan Connolly, Vice President of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics Student Association (ENRESA) and Lisa Petrie, Chair of the Green Task Force of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of South County presented information on their groups.
Senator Whitehouse, who was unable to attend due to the government shutdown, sent a personal message of support to the group.
“Thank you to the Sierra Club and to all the students participating in this event for taking action on climate change. Every week, I give a speech in the Senate urging my colleagues to wake up to the effects of climate change. The effects are all around us, and they’re only getting worse: sea-level rise, ocean warming and acidification, temperature records and heat waves.
Mother Nature is giving us some pretty strong signals, and we ignore them at our peril. I’ll keep fighting to get Congress to wake up, and your actions on campus are also critical. We need to spread awareness and encourage everyone to make their voices heard. Again, thank you for organizing this event, for pressing for divestment, and for joining the fight against climate change. I hope you enjoy the film.”
The audience sat in rapt silence as the film laid out the “terrifying math” of global warming: the fact that, barring drastic action, we will blow through our “carbon budget–” the amount of fossil fuels we can burn without utterly destroying the climate–within the next 15 years–and, still more frightening, that the fossil fuel companies already have on their books over five times that amount.
Beyond “the Math” it documented the emergence of the burgeoning climate movement in the U.S., from the protests against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to the divestment campaigns that have sprung up on over 300 college campuses and in scores of cities nationwide. A pre-recorded video message from Bill McKibben, The Next Chapter, was shown after after the movie.
Since we launched the Do The Math tour sixteen American cities including Providence … seven or eight big universities, some of our big denominations like United Church of Christ. (They have plans to divest.) There’s a lot of momentum so we need you in this fight pushing ahead…We continue to fight Keystone in every way we can. There are 75,000 people who have pledged civil disobedience — we hope that it doesn’t come to that, but if it does, you know where I will be … Very glad to see lots of people out for Summer Heat to shut down Brayton Point, the last coal fired station around here. Time to to shut it down.” In fact, last week, the new owners announced plans to retire the plant.
“The movie made me feel hopeful about the possibility of ending the use of fossil fuels and saving the earth and all its inhabitants!” said Jan Creamer of Wakefield.
Then Sarah Martin, ENRESA President, introduced the panel: Abel Collins, RI Sierra Club, Rachel Bishop, Brown Divest Coal, Nick Katkevich, founding member FFRI and Pat Prendergast, a second year environmental and natural resource economics master’s student and a URI Energy Fellow.
A lively discussion followed and the panel adeptly handled a wide range of questions beginning with what Larry Kelland of Wakefield described as a creeping expansion of corporate “rights” cementing the influence of fossil fuel companies influence on public policy due to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. Other topics that came up were: widening the divestment strategy and asking if the group was looking into asking philanthropic foundations to divest so as to be consistent with their charter to “do public good.” Liz Marsis, formerly of the George Wiley Center, pointed out that diverse environmental groups must band together with social justice groups in demanding change. Nick Katkevich echoed this sentiment, noting that
we need to move outside our silos and see the connections between the crises we face. Climate change will unleash a wave of migration such as the world has never seen, making immigration reform more urgent than ever. The same banks that are financing mountaintop removal mining are forcing families out of their homes.
Judging from the conversations before hand, perhaps as much as one third of the crowd came to get information. There seemed to be groups in which one person was very well informed while others came to learn. Judging from the response and questions, the audience left convinced that there was no doubt that the evidence was compelling and immediate action was needed. Terry Cummings, a member of Occupy Providence and URI alumn said “(it was a) great success. I dig the film (second viewing) yet, it’s the peeps and their awakening that moves me as well.”
Maureen Logan of Westerly, who is also a member of the Raging Grannies, asked about hosting a screening of the documentary there. Terry Cummings, a member of Occupy Providence and URI alumnus, said “(it was a) great success. I dig the film (second viewing) yet, it’s the peeps and their awakening that moves me as well.”
Tommy Viscione, wrapped things up with announcements of upcoming events and actions. Later that night Abel Collins posted his thoughts that summed up the feeling of the event:
I am going to bed tonight with a deep sense of gratitude. Thanks to the great work of URI student volunteers and the member/volunteers of Fossil Free RI, , and the Rhode Island Sierra Club, we had standing room only in the auditorium.
The film was inspiring, but it was the community that came together to experience it and the great discussion that we had afterward that made it meaningful.