The campus movement for divestment from fossil fuel holdings is but a few years old, barely 2 percent of the time gone by since human beings, having discovered how to extract stupendous amounts of energy from the buried remains of extinct life, started clogging the atmosphere with carbon dioxide. One way to frame these facts is to say that the climate movement—of which fossil fuel divestment is a part—started late. Another way to frame the same facts is to say that fossil fuel divestment has come a long way

Todd Gitlin

The idea of divestment is to stigmatize the companies that are digging the world into a deeper hole. The first part, conceptually, is simple: to compel them to stop digging. The second is a little more intricate: to encourage universities to reinvest in something more constructive. Divestment is built on the premise that the world is a dense web of reverberating action and reaction, and that it is possible to generate a positive feedback loop in which good decisions spawn other good decisions, which, if things go well, will change our culture.

Contrary to the straw man raised by divestment opponents, the goal is not to drive down the price of oil, gas, and coal; by the way, market forces are already doing quite a good job of that all on their own. It is entirely true, as the industry’s spokespeople persist in reminding us ignoramuses, that insofar as someone sells shares, someone else buys them. The point is to make every important decision-making body—every corporate board, every party congress, every investment committee of every pension fund and university—wrestle with their responsibility for directing the world toward a sustainable future.

Most university governing boards think this is none of their business. Some, like the Harvard Corporation, think their mission is to invest and, if necessary, to chat. They speak the same language, after all. As fossil fuel managers go about their business, the self-selecting bodies that govern universities assume, or purport to assume, that they can settle whatever differences arise by chatting these managers out of their errors. This so-called “engagement” strategy of trying to persuade corporate chiefs to listen to sweet reason and change their minds is, if one is to take it at all seriously, tantamount to the well-meaning mouse’s effort to engage the cat. These companies’ destructive policies are not errors. They are a business model that, predictably, helps pour more carbon dioxide (as well as other greenhouse gases) into the atmosphere, heat the planet, acidify the ocean, and intensify drought, flood, and all manner of other extreme weather phenomena with terrible consequences.

For decades, the companies knew more than they let on about the dire consequences of business-as-usual. So they lied, stalled, denied, propagandized, stalled more, and maintained that their voracious consumption of fossil fuels was a gift to all of us energy-greedy peons. Their tactics vary, but their strategy does not: the longer these companies (and the sovereign wealth funds invested by Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other governments) succeed in pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the more money they make, or think they can make, even if the results are calamitous.

In a 1958 tract, The Causes of World War III, the late C. Wright Mills coined the inspired term “crackpot realism” for the defense intellectuals who developed the framework for driving the Cold War to the brink of all-around annihilation. Let’s adapt it for today’s climate context and say that the fossil fuel industry and its enablers are practicing haywire realism. University officials are enablers. Disgracefully, most university leaders jumped, and stayed, on the oily bandwagon, which is another reason why divestment movements are necessary: they expose how far universities depart from what might be considered their truth-finding, truth-telling missions. What pass as arguments against divestment are so laughable, it’s hard to take them seriously. There is, for example, the claim that to maximize returns, firms simply cannot afford to rule out any possible investment. In Harvard’s official statementissued in the name of President Drew Faust in 2013: “logic and experience indicate that barring investments in a major, integral sector of the global economy would—especially for a large endowment reliant on sophisticated investment techniques, pooled funds, and broad diversification—come at a substantial economic cost.” Actually, research by MSCI, a firm that advises ninety-seven of the top one hundred asset managers, demonstrates that investors who sold their stakes in fossil fuel companies in 2008 would have been better off by 2013, when Faust made her statement. By one reckoning, it has been seven years since the high price of oil made fossil fuel energy a superior investment.

Finish the Article -Source: Fossil Fuels Off Campus | Dissent Magazine