What is Divestment and Will it Work?

fossil-free-booklet-coverHere in Corvallis our recently formed local 350.org group naturally is looking at our parent organization’s campaigns and efforts for inspiration.  One campaign that has been receiving a lot of attention is the Divestment Campaign.  From 350’s gofossilfree.org website:

We want College and University Presidents and Boards (as well as Religious and Pension funds) 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 a growing campaign but at the same time seems to be raising many questions and issues.  I think the most common objection I hear is that something like this won’t have much of a financial impact on such big and powerful corporations.  However I don’t think anyone is expecting it to, and it is not really the goal.  The goal, as I understand it, is to make a statement and create publicity about how the fossil fuel industry operates.  These companies have a stronghold on our political and economical system, perhaps something like this can help shake that up a bit.  The movement is based on a similar campaign against apartheid in South Africa.  That campaign was a factor in overcoming apartheid, and it wasn’t a result of causing any real financial damage to the corporations involved, it was more about social and political pressure.

Will it work?  No one can say for sure.  But this is no reason not to try.  As activists we take all types of actions, like writing letters to our representatives and showing up to protests.  There are no guarantee that any of these things will work either, but we keep trying because sometimes it does work.  The divestment campaign is a fresh approach, and we need an influx of fresh approaches.  We need to keep trying new things until we are successful.

Our group has begun to make plans to launch a divestment campaign.  We are looking at both Oregon State University and other State institutions.  There is currently an online petition started for Oregon State Univeristy.  If you would like more information please contact us.

Here is an interview from Democracy Now with author Christian Parenti who raises doubts and responses from Bill McKibben, 350.org founder.

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