Divestment’s Impact is More Than Just Money

The divestment campaign – a grassroots movement to get public pensions, university endowments and other large funds to remove fossil fuels companies from their portfolios – has garnered some huge victories recently.

Earlier this year, it was Norway’s Government Pension Fund announcing it would divest from coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. Last month, California followed suit, voting to divest its massive state pension fund – one of the largest government funds in the world – from coal. Then, it was the California Academy of Sciences, of the country’s most well-endowed museums, accounting it would divest from fossil fuels entirely.

Now, this month, the big news was that America’s richest public university system, the University of California system, will pull $200 million out of coal and oil sands investments.

According to Karthik Ganapathy of 350.org, this latest move is much, much bigger than the $200 million price-tag. It is the moral authority that academia divesting gives to the cause, along with the power of association.  As he told Huffington Post:

“The whole idea is basically to get the institutions that people trust — Harvard, the University of California, Stanford — to get folks to pull their money out of fossil fuels and take a stand against the industry: the way that a lot of them did with tobacco, the way a lot of them did with apartheid-era South Africa.

The idea is that it will shift cultural attitudes by getting big institutions that people trust to take a moral stand against.”

Of course, this is only a part of the puzzle. The campaign, led by organizations including 350.org, believe that not only is investing in fossil fuels wrong from a moral standpoint, but it is also a bad investment. In order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the vast majority of fossil fuels need to remain in the ground. But the valuations of most energy companies includes their proven reserves – and expected future value of exploiting those reserves. Of course, as we know, if all that carbon is leeched into the atmosphere, our global economy will suffer immensely.

Universities are at the forefront of knowledge: They host the scientists who are studying climate change, and are educating future generations about how to take care of the earth. Now, they are, more and more, putting their money where their mouthes are. And that is away from dirty, polluting industries.

The divestment campaign is now aiming for one of the richest institutions on the planet – the Vatican. With the Pope speaking more forcefully about climate, it might just be a matter of time before even they divest from fossil fuels. Expect to hear more and more news from the divestment campaign in the coming weeks leading up the Paris Climate Talks in December.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons