Did you know that there’s a concerted effort to encourage fossil fuel divestment? Well there’s an apparently strong group (among others) called “Fossil Free” (http://gofossilfree.org) that:
- “believe that educational and religious institutions, city and state governments, and other institutions that serve the public good should divest from fossil fuels”; and,
- “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”.
The movement seems to be gaining momentum.
I’ve seen divestment initiatives pop up in the press a few times lately. Most notably, this article in the Guardian: Pope Francis urged to back fossil fuel divestment campaign. It reports upon two groups, the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC) and the US based GreenFaith, that are calling on the Pope to back their efforts to divest from companies that profit from fossil fuels.
I can imagine most people thinking “yeah! that’s what we need to do!”, but the thinking behind this seems a bit flawed to me.
Why do they think fossil fuel divestment is necessary?
It seems that scientists believe that a safe upper limit for CO2 concentration in our atmosphere is 350 ppm (parts per million). The problem is that we are already at about 390 ppm and it’s probably an urgent priority to reverse this and get back below 350 ppm or the world as we know it will cease to function. See this 90 second video from 350.org.
Even more worryingly, scientists believe we have already found more fossil fuels than we can afford to burn (I think fossil fuel companies would say that carbon capture and sequestration is the answer to this problem). I haven’t researched this much yet, so I can’t say how true this is, but it’s worrying none the less. Here’s an excerpt from the gofossilfree.org site:
To grasp the seriousness of the climate crisis, you just need to do a little math. Fossil fuel corporations have 5 times more oil and coal and gas in known reserves than climate scientists think is safe to burn. We have to keep 80% of their fossil fuels underground to keep the earth in livable shape.
Here are the three numbers you shouldn’t forget:
2 degrees — Almost every government in the world has agreed that any warming above a 2°C (3.6°F) rise would be unsafe. We have already raised the temperature .8°C, and that has caused far more damage than most scientists expected. A third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic, and since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, the climate dice are loaded for both devastating floods and drought.
565 gigatons — Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees. Computer models calculate that even if we stopped increasing CO2 levels now, the temperature would still rise another 0.8 degrees above the 0.8 we’ve already warmed, which means that we’re already 4/5 of the way to the 2 degree target.
2,795 gigatons — The Carbon Tracker Initiative, a team of London financial analysts, estimates that proven coal, oil, and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries (think Venezuela or Kuwait) that act like fossil-fuel companies, equals about 2,795 gigatons of CO2, or five times the amount we can release to maintain 2 degrees of warming.
Is fossil fuel divestment the right thing?
If all of this is true, is it fair for us to just blame the fossil fuel companies and try and penalize them by removing investment from them? I don’t think so. People in general are going around using energy and burning fossil fuels like it’s their right and always thinking that climate change is someone else’s problem. Every single person and corporation can take ownership of this problem.
Shouldn’t we lead the way by reducing consumption?
Everyone can start today by reducing consumption. It may sound hard because people can easily say “but I need my car to get to work”. Reducing consumption doesn’t have to mean selling your car and buying a bicycle (although there’s nothing wrong with that), but we can start with small steps. It’s much easier for me to consider using 10% less. How can I use my car 10% less. How can I burn 10% less fuel per month? When I think of a 10% reduction, it sounds so much easier.
I’m trying to reduce my consumption overall by 10%. See Can I reduce fuel consumption by 10%? Once I’ve succeeded with a 10% reduction, I’ll start again, looking for another 10%.
Where is your money invested?
Now, returning to the original point of this post, fossil fuel divestment. As I said, I don’t believe it’s right to blame the fossil fuel companies if we just carry on consuming fossil fuels at the same rate. So, step number 1 is to reduce our consumption. That’s a no brainer.
But then, it’s also a good idea to consider where our money is invested. In today’s society, most of us have somehow invested in “managed funds” and we have no real idea what our money is supporting. Recently I saw some of the damage being caused in Australia by a major mining company (see We need companies we can trust) and that made me think that I don’t really want to support them by investing in their company.
It’s a valid concern to check where our money is invested and make sure we’re supporting companies and activities that are supporting us (people and planet) in ways that we think are right. That’s a personal choice for all of us, but an important one to actually make and not just allow someone else to decide where our money goes.
What do you think about fossil fuel divestment?