The Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign is just under a year old, and it has already made some serious progress.
Students have started campaigns at hundreds of schools across America, including those with some of the biggest endowments in the world such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton University.
Students have also started campaigns at schools in Australia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Bangladesh, along with a dozen schools in Canada. Six schools have now officially committed to divest—all of them small colleges in the US.
Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, leads this international campaign and had this to say in an article he wrote for Rolling Stone magazine last February: “Here’s my bet: the kids are going to win, and when they do, it’s going to matter. In fact, with Washington blocked, campuses are suddenly a front line in the climate fight – a place to stand up to a status quo that is wrecking the planet.”
The New York Times said the campaign could “force climate change back on to the nation’s political agenda.”
That being said, it is exciting to see this movement continue to grow both on and off campuses. “The campaign to demand divestment from fossil fuel stock emerged from nowhere in late fall to suddenly become the largest student movement in decades,” said McKibben. “Already it’s drawing widespread media attention; already churches and city governments are joining students in the fight. It’s where the action all of a sudden is.”
The logic behind this campaign could not be simpler. “If it’s wrong to wreck the climate, it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.”
If successful, the divestment campaign could weaken the incredible political influence of the fossil fuel industry. If schools help expose the industry for what it really is—a reckless commerce whose business model is incompatible with the scientific mandate for a stable climate—then their image may become tarnished.
Since a good image is what makes it easy for them to exert their political control, our leaders might finally have the will to do something about climate change.
You could say that fossil fuels are the new tobacco.
Similar to schools, cities have been and will continue to be an essential part of this campaign. The first victory of this movement was when Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced that city funds would no longer be invested in fossil fuels. “I believe that Seattle ought to discourage these companies from extracting that fossil fuel, and divesting the pension fund from these companies is one way we can do that.”
Last April the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to urge the city’s Retirement Board to divest $583 million of fossil fuel holdings in the city’s $16 billion retirement fund. Almost 20 towns and cities have divested or are in the process of divestment.
Appropriately, religious institutions are leading the way in this campaign as well. Twelve have committed to divest, including the United Church of Christ in America and the Melbourne Unitarian Church in Australia.
“This resolution becomes a model for all faith communities who care about God’s creation and recognize the urgent scientific mandate to keep at least 80 percent of the known oil, gas, and coal reserves in the ground,” said Rev. Jim Antal of the United Church of Christ.
Financial institutions are also taking steps to divest from fossil fuels. The World Bank’s Board of Directors recently agreed to a new energy strategy that will limit financing of coal power plants to “rare circumstances”, such as when there are “no feasible alternatives” for developing countries.
This is significant considering they have spent over six-billion dollars in the past five years to finance coal plants.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank have made similar commitments. These decisions will make coal less attractive to investors in countries that previously received funding for coal plants.
Similar to the World Bank, President Obama pledged to limit foreign financing of coal during a speech on climate change in Washington last June.
“Today, I’m calling for an end of public financing for new coal plants overseas, unless they deploy carbon-capture technologies, or there’s no other viable way for the poorest countries to generate electricity,” he said. Obama even gave a shout to the divestment campaign: “Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest.”
So where does Trent stand in all of this? Trent has yet to show leadership on the issue so far, but the opportunity to make history has not yet passed. Trent could still be the first school in Canada to divest from fossil fuels, but maybe for not much longer.
As more and more colleges, universities, institutions, and politicians take action to divest, Trent simply cannot afford to be left behind in these revolutionary times.
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