Divest!

images-2The logic is elementary:

  1. If we want to avert civilization-destroying climate chaos, we need to decarbonize the economy as rapidly as possible
  2. If we want to decarbonize the economy, we must stop consuming fossil fuels
  3. If we want to stop consuming fossil fuels, we must prevent the energy companies from digging them up
  4. If we want to stop the energy companies from digging up fossil fuels, we must find a way to exert political and economic pressure on these companies
  5. We can exert effective pressure on energy companies most effectively through collective mobilization
  6. We are most likely to achieve such mobilization through institutions that form part of our everyday lives

The conclusion is inescapable: we need a campaign to get our schools and colleges, our religious organizations, our city and state governments, and all other institutions dedicated to the public good to divest from energy companies until they agree to stop exploiting fossil fuels.

350.org has begun precisely such a divestment campaign. Here are their demands:

We want institutions to immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies, and divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within 5 years.

200 publicly-traded companies hold the vast majority of the world’s proven coal, oil and gas reserves. Those are the companies we’re asking our institutions to divest from. Our demands to these companies are simple, because they reflect the stark truth of climate science:

  • They need immediately to stop exploring for new hydrocarbons.
  • They need to stop lobbying in Washington and state capitols across the country to preserve their special breaks.
  • Most importantly, they need to pledge to keep 80% of their current reserves underground forever.

This is an incredibly important campaign, one with precedents in the struggle against apartheid, but in this case the campaign touches not simply on an odious system of racial inequality in one nation but rather on a greed-driven capitalist system that threatens all life on Earth – although it will affect the most vulnerable, many of whom live in the global South, first.

There are huge challenges. As Naomi Klein revealed in a recent article, most of the major US-based environmental organizations have substantial investments in and/or political ties to big energy corporations. It really beggars the imagination to believe that organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and the Wildlife Conservation Society should have major investments in companies like Exxon, but, as Klein’s article reveals, this is the stark truth.

So, if you’re wondering what to do about the climate crisis, one immediate step would be to pressure your university, church, or local government to come clean and divest from fossil fuel madness.

Here’s a film that explains the logic behind the divestment campaign in more detail:

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