The fossil fuel industry has a death grip on our civilization. Although most politicians understand the imminent and catastrophic danger of climate change, most have done nothing to fight for international and local climate policy that will limit carbon emissions.
Almost everything in our world runs on fossil fuels, which is why the fossil fuel industry is the most profitable industry in the world. In fact, Exxon Mobil is the most profitable company in the history of the world. It is also the most profitable company in the Global 500. When oil companies make enormous campaign contributions in order to prevent the public from knowing the truth about climate change and to maintain their power, how are ordinary citizens supposed to avert the catastrophic ecological consequences of a warming planet?
It’s clear that individual consumer changes will never add up to enough to counter the destruction of burning fossil fuels. So we need to go after the most powerful industry on the planet, the fossil fuel industry, and go after them where it hurts most – their money.
This is where divestment comes in. Divestment is the removal of investments from a particular company or industry. It has been used as a tactic to oppose injustices and corporate control and irresponsibility. In the 1970s and 1980s, hundreds of colleges, universities, individuals, and foundations divested their money from the apartheid regime in South Africa. In the 1990s, many colleges and foundations divested from the tobacco industry.
Divestment is a powerful tactic that sends a strong financial and political message, and it is now targeting the fossil fuel industry. Since 2011, more than 400 student divestment campaigns have sprung up across the United States, and there are dozens in other parts of the world as well. (Gofossilfree.org has incredible amounts of information about the divestment movement, from how to start your own campaign to already existing campaigns and divestment wins.)
The purpose of divestment is not to bankrupt the fossil fuel industry – that is almost impossible. The purpose of divestment is to radically change our views about what activism means and to stigmatize the fossil fuel industry and deprive it of its social license to operate.
Divestment is radical, simple, and unavoidable if we wish to avert catastrophic climate change. In the next post I will discuss the campaign to divest Mount Holyoke’s endowment from fossil fuels.