The very first Global Divestment Day is celebrated on February 13 and 14 this year. Campaigners around the world are calling on institutions to freeze investment in fossil fuels as a way to tackle climate change head on.
350.org is one international organization supporting the divestment campaign by facilitating grassroots movements all over the world. Through its project "Fossil Free," the effort aims to raise awareness of the need to decrease carbon dioxide concentration to a safer level in the atmosphere, or 350 parts per million. DW caught up with Tine Langkamp, 350.org's Fossil Free campaign coordinator for Germany.
DW: What is Global Divestment Day?
Global Divestment Day is a very important moment for the divestment movement. It is where we come together globally for the first time to show our strength and visibility. The movement is made up of people from all ranges of society - young people, old people - and we ask institutions to divest from fossil fuels, to no longer invest in the coal, oil and gas sectors. It's the possibility to raise awareness in the wider public, reaching beyond the usual suspects.
What is fossil fuel divestment?
Fossil fuel divestment is when you take your money that is invested in companies - like Shell, BP, RWE - and put it into something more useful. There are eco-ethical banks in Germany, for example, that offer socially and environmentally just investments, and you put your money there.
What kind of action are you calling for?
We call on institutions in the world from all sectors to stop investing in fossil fuel industries, in the top 200 coal, oil and gas companies, because they hold vast carbon reserves that they still plan to burn.
Why is it important to go fossil free?
It's important for many reasons. One main reason is we need to leave 80 percent of fossil fuels in the ground, according to the Carbon Tracker Initiative. If we don't do that, the global atmosphere will warm more than 2 degrees Celsius, and that would lead to "catastrophic climate change," scientists say.
What activities are planned for Germany?
There are many different activities planned - like creative flash mobs or photo actions. Most of our activities are aiming [to encourage] city divestment. Some groups launch their longer-term campaign activities on Global Divestment Day, for example, in Bochum, Cologne or Leipzig. People are writing open letters to their institutions to raise the divestment debate. There will be movie nights and discussion groups. It's all very open for the folks on the ground to see what's suitable for them and what they'd like to do.
What's happening in Berlin specifically?
In Berlin, there will be something between a flash mob and a demo at Alexanderplatz, where the Berliner Bear - the symbol of the city - will go on a "divestment marathon." People can come and cheer him on as the Berliner Bear "runs toward divestment" and makes it to his divestment goal. Everyone can come to that event and dress up in black and orange. They will meet at the World Time Clock - this iconic clock at Alexanderplatz - which is a really nice symbol for climate change because time is running out in a way, and we all need to act in every way possible to prevent the worst.
Why do people wear either orange or black?
Those are the campaign colors. Black usually symbolizes the fossil fuel industry. Orange is the color for divestment. In the movement's history, some of the early student organizers decided against green as a color for the campaign because the divestment campaign is broader than many environmental topics [and also] because it touches upon the financial sector in a clear way. And it is something more than protecting nature.That is also very important, but the divestment campaign wouldn't be well represented by the color green.
Instead of fossil fuels, what alternatives do you propose?
We propose a 100 percent renewable future. Studies have shown this is possible, and we aim for that. And we know that renewables – like wind and solar power - are only part of the energy sector. We basically aim for decentralized and just energy systems where people have power over their use instead of big companies, like those that build huge dams in the Amazon and destroy beautiful landscapes and pristine nature that we still need and depend on.
Critics say divestment will have little financial impact on fossil fuel companies? How do you respond to that?
Of course we know that when the University of Münster divest their 1 million euros, they won't have a financial impact on the fossil fuel industry, but they will have an influence on the public debate that is created around it. This is also what a study showed from the University of Oxford, where they looked at past divestment campaigns against tobacco, for example. They saw divestment campaigns function in three waves. The first wave is divestment of small amounts of money and creation of a public debate, in which media outlets become more aware of the topic. The second wave includes divestment at universities like Harvard and Oxford - universities that everyone knows, that have prestige. The third wave includes institutions that have a lot of money, like insurance companies, pension funds and banks. And throughout these waves, the public debate is formed. This then creates the space for politicians to act. So, the last step after the third wave is the implementation of political, restrictive legislation against unethical industries. Hopefully soon, that will include the fossil fuel industry.
Some say this movement may divert attention from actions that could make more of a difference. What do you think of that?
We hope that we will help create the space for politicians to act and to implement the solutions we need. But we also need other movements to work on concrete solutions, like the renewable energy sector or alternative forms of agriculture. We need all of these little pieces to make the bigger picture work. I don't believe any single movement can solve a problem that is this complex. We need them all, and we are there to help.
How can people get involved?
They can look at our homepage, gofossilfree.org/de - that's the German part of it. They can get in touch with me or with the growing fossil free network in Germany. We have multiple workshops and programs in many countries. We have national gatherings where we come together. There are many ways to get in touch.
Tine Langkamp is the Fossil Free campaign coordinator for Germany. Fossil Free is a project of 350.org.