As with guns, the question is: What will it finally take to make us act?
It's only money ... but try telling yourself that after you've just kissed off a tidy sum for reasons that remain obscure even to yourself.
I keep going back to the last time my stomach felt like there was a load of laundry in there because of money -- that awful morning in 1973 when my boyfriend and I lost the Jackson.
A $20 bill meant something back then. The breakfast we'd shared at the diner where the bill unaccountably vanished cost us just a buck and a quarter, and the gas to get there and back about the same. It nearly killed us that we'd have to retrace the distance to see if by some crazy random miracle the dub would show up in the crack in the vinyl banquette we'd sat in, or on the floor.
Fast-forward 40 years. What's 1,000 times $20? Do the math -- but be careful if you go one step further and check out what climate scientist Bill McKibben's been saying lately on his college tour of the same name.
McKibben is the Ross Perot of the weather wars. His most compelling calculation is a lot scarier to me personally than dropping 20K in a stock trade, which is what I just did when I took his advice and sold my holdings in Exxon Mobil. (The shares were purchased by my grandmother when the company was Standard Oil -- hence the capital-gains tax hit I'll take come April 15.)
"Fossil-fuel companies currently have 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide in their fuel reserves," McKibben says, "and their business model depends on that fuel being sold and burned. At current rates of consumption, the world will have blown through its 565-gigaton threshold in 16 years." That's when the heat wave will have "catastrophic consequences" for life on Earth.
McKibben wants to put a dent in oil-industry balance sheets and via that route the conscience of corporate America, such as it is. Corporations aren't people, but their CEOs are beholden to people. Shareholders like me. Until the other day.
Some of my friends consider my decision quixotic, to put it politely. They say I have more influence as a shareholder than not and that the shares I sell will be snapped up by someone else. They wonder: "What's your point?"
I try to defend myself. While it may be true that my divestiture won't affect anything except my own kids' financial futures, which I admit are precarious enough without me chipping away at their inheritance ... isn't that the point? What would you rather have 50 years from now -- a fat 401(k) or a livable planet? If we don't act now, our own children, when they're parents themselves, will know for a fact that survival trumps vintage notions of right and wrong. This thing that we who live in the relatively safe present preciously call "the greater good" will seem quaint. So yesterday.
Former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough, God love him, deserves the credit for getting me to pull the trigger. He did it by royally pissing me off. A longtime member of the National Rifle Association and proud holder of its coveted four-star rating on anti-gun-control votes, Scarborough told "All Things Considered" host Robert Siegel on National Public Radio that it's time for America to, as he put it, "have a conversation" on guns. Scarborough said he was stunned by what happened to "those babies" in Newtown, Conn. Siegel asked how he could possibly be stunned, given that this is the seventh mass slaying involving an assault weapon this year.
Scarborough didn't seem to hear the question. He was too broken up about the babies, I guess, to keep his mind focused. Plus, he is savvy enough to know what listeners like to hear. News is just another form of entertainment these days. Now in the business himself, Scarborough leveraged that NRA rating into a well-paid gig on MSNBC. He plays the token conservative, spewing his signature homespun non sequiturs on a talk show called "Morning Joe."
Scarborough left out of his sobfest that the 1994 Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act, aka the assault-weapons ban, had for years kept America's schoolchildren and older folks, too, out of harm's way. Then guys like him allowed it to expire in 2004. Do the math, sir, I kept thinking as my blood pressure climbed. How any deaths since the repeal? Are you even counting? Are we up to 400 yet?
Climate change is to gun violence what quantum physics is to tying your shoe. And our kids won't have the chance to reverse course on this one. If you own oil stock, get rid of it. Now. It's not that hard. In fact, I'm starting to feel pretty good about unloading all that guilt. As to the 20K, it's only money.