Friday, October 24, 2014

Why Divest from Fossil Fuels

                     Comment by Nov. 2, 2014
Although the following note was addressed to the readers of a special magazine the message is general and applies to all.

A Note from Bill McKibben to Tikkun readers, members of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and our friends and allies

Tikkun readers don’t need my financial advice – I’m not exactly a stock market guru. Still, I did write the first book for a general audience on climate change (way back in 1989), and I did found the first big grassroots climate campaign (, so perhaps I can make a few observations about why the fossil fuel divestment effort has become the fastest-growing effort of its kind in history, according to Oxford University. And about why we need your congregations, your colleges, and your cities to join in this effort.
1. The fossil fuel companies aren’t normal companies. In the last few years we’ve come to understand that they have five times as much carbon in their reserves as we can safely burn if the world is to meet its agreed climate target of limiting rises in temperature to below 2 degrees. That is to say, if they carry out their business plan, the planet tanks. There’s no longer any real dispute about this – everyone right up to the World Bank has confirmed the math.
2. What this means in turn is that if you hold these stocks you in effect are wagering that the planet will do nothing to limit climate change. If we tried as a world to meet that two-degree limit – if we followed the principles put forth by all our leading religious and scientific bodies on this issue – the value of these stocks would plummet. HSBC, the world’s second-biggest bank, found that the values of these stocks would be cut in half by effective climate action.
3. Usually, dealing with companies doing something wrong, we can apply lesser kinds of pressure: proxy voting, say, on shareholder resolutions. But in this case there’s not a flaw in the business plan that can be corrected – the flaw is the business plan. Responding to such pressure earlier this year, Exxon – richest company on earth – said it would make no adjustments and thought it was ‘highly unlikely’ that they’d be restrained from using their fuel. That is, they said they’d burn the planet, and they didn’t think anyone could stop them
4. These companies and their investors also play a crucial role in sustaining the current system. If you invest in Exxon, you’ve helped send millions to climate-denial ‘think tanks.’ If you invest in Chevron, you helped send the largest corporate campaign contribution in history, designed to make sure that climate deniers kept continued control of the Congress
5. These positions are immoral. If it’s wrong to wreck the planet, it’s wrong to profit from the wreckage. Don’t trust me – listen to Desmond Tutu, perhaps the most revered faith leader on the planet at the moment, who earlier this year sent out a clarion call for divestment, especially for those of us who take the Scriptures seriously. “It is a responsibility that begins with God commanding the first human inhabitants of the garden of Eden ‘to till and to keep it,’” he said. “To keep it; not to abuse it, not to destroy it.” If, like me, you’ve traveled to places already devastated by climate change, then you know what he means. The one big study on this subject predicts that fossil fuel will take 100 million lives by 2030.
6. Divestment is not a single easy solution to global warming. It will not bankrupt the fossil fuel companies. It will, however, begin the process of politically bankrupting them, and making it harder for them to bend Washington to their will. In May, Christiana Figueres pleaded with faith leaders in a speech in London to divest immediately. By divesting, she said, faith groups can provide a “moral compass” to the planet’s other leaders. “Leaders of faith groups, from Christians and Muslims to Hindus, Jews and Buddhists have a responsibility and an opportunity,” she said.
7. And they can fulfill that responsibility without undue financial risk. In fact, study after study has shown that if endowments had divested of fossil fuels a decade ago they would have made far better returns over the period. And investors of all stripes are now calculating the risk that comes with the ‘carbon bubble’ – all those reserves of coal, gas, and oil that can’t be burned if we’re to come to terms with climate change
8. That’s why Anglican dioceses across Australia and New Zealand have divested, and why the United Church of Christ has urged its member congregations to divest, and why an astonishing array of cities (Seattle, Providence and dozens more) and colleges (from tiny Unity College to mighty Stanford) have begun the process as well. Here is a chance for the Tikkun readership, the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and the community you represent, to show its solidarity with young people and with poor people and with the rest of Creation. I hope you take it.


Maria Hernandez-Norris said...

First off, I love the format of this post/article. It is clear and to the point -“Look everyone is getting out of fossil fuel and you should to. Here is why.” Next, it simply goes on to list the negative qualities, impacts and affiliations of the fossil fuel industry. BRILLIANT in general. The article also notes on how the reader as an individual can help contribute to making the world a better place by supporting the effort to divest and stop using fossil fuels. My absolute favorite part about this article would have to be the authors attempt to reach out to the religious community. Noting on creation, the Garden of Eden and the relationship between religious communities and youth was on point, personal yet moderate.

Dylan Hirsch said...

I like this article because of its effectiveness and viability. In my opinion, this article discredits the argument (L. White) that Judeo-Christian ethics are the cause of our environmental crisis. I say this because he is using this moral and religious avenue as a solution and organization tool to create viable change - divest in the fossil fuel industry, and government will be less constrained to keep the status quo. Holding onto financial investment in these companies is directly contributing to the degradation of the planet as a whole, which is fundamentally immoral under any ethical codes. I agree with Maria that the formatting was clear and focused.

- Dylan Hirsch

Anonymous said...

I just watched a clip from a recent episode of Real Time with Bill Maher in which a student representative from Harvard explains the Divest Harvard movement. Their goal is to get Harvard's investments and profits out of fossil fuels and oil and companies that "threaten our future" and into companies that are in line with the values of a higher education institution, which includes working for a better future. The student's theory implies that money is actually a huge political tool that goes through various hands and has various effects, but it's also a tool that the public as well as large corporations can influence.The strongest point of the argument to me was in point 6 of the article, stating that divesting in the fossil fuel industry will make the government less likely to be influenced by those companies. I agree with Dylan when he says that keeping money in those companies contributes to the degradation of the planet.

I think it's horrible that companies with entirely flawed business plans can run rampant through the planet and its resources all in the name of profit, and when we understand how money gets into and through the economy and the effects that money has on the environment through business and policy, then we can open up to different perspectives and solutions on the issue. I agree with the point that culture creates values and values create democracy and economy and market. I love that the article broached the topic through the lens of morality and religion, which are elements at the heart of culture and values. When we can see how the issue functions in a moral, ethical, religious, economic, political, and scientific context, and then we can change our own personal values. A change in values will result in a change in culture and vice versa, and the Divest Harvard campaign is a great example of this.

Micaela Itona

Anonymous said...

The author of this article has an interesting (and educational) way of explaining who and what to invest (and not invest) in. I can definitely see why the author is advising not to invest in companies like Exxon, Exxon being an oil/gas company and being one of many such companies to create devastating oil spills. I feel as though it was good for the author to include the information about how "divestment is not a single easy solution to global warming. It will not bankrupt the fossil fuel companies. It will, however, begin the process of politically bankrupting them, and making it harder for them to bend Washington to their will. ... And they can fulfill that responsibility without undue financial risk. In fact, study after study has shown that if endowments had divested of fossil fuels a decade ago they would have made far better returns over the period." I would have never known that about divestment- that, although it may not kill the companies, it will help loosen their grip on the government.

-E. Piper Phillips

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this article because of the content and the way in which it was presented. He does a really good job bringing to light the ways in which these huge companies are able to hurt everyone on this planet for money. The risks involved in having these huge reserves of burnable energy significantly outweigh any positives that one might be able to find(I certainly cant) He clearly doesn't think investing in these huge companies is a good idea and even states that if you do invest in them YOU are a part of the problem. I was happy to see that religion and environmentalism are beginning to come together, i think this is incredibly important as large parts of the worlds population follow heavily what their religious leaders say.

Nick Stanton

Brianna Connelly said...

As Dylan said, this article made me think of L.White's view on religion being the primary cause of our environmental crisis. As Nick said, it is great to see that religion and environmentalism are coming together, this can possible lead to a paradigm shift because our faith is one of the main things that shape our values and morals.. therefore, society will start to pay more attention to treated nature with love and respect and hopefully this will lead to a better environment. It amazes that large companies can have so much power over our planet, we need to put a stop to this. Just another one of the many things was can to as individuals to help our environment. This article was well written and persuasive, I enjoyed reading it.

Brianna Connelly

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Anonymous said...

I really liked several points the author made in this article. It was interesting to me how he is putting some blame into the stockholders hands, and makes me realize that the problem is much more than just the company's faults. We all help sustain these polluting businesses, by purchasing from them, and especially by purchasing their stock which helps them thrive. I also was happy to see one of the last bullets contained a message referring to how religion plays its role as well. Its nice to see things we've in class other places, and now being able to understand what is meant more clearly.

Jennifer Hare

Anonymous said...

Bill McKibben makes very good direct points in this article. He isn't shying away from offending anyone. I like that he shows that fossil fuel companies are selfish and only care about profit. He also looks beyond what their answers, not stopping the use of their fuels, mean for the right now, but looks at what they are saying for the future. That the fossil fuel companies are going to burn the planet and they just don't care. I didn't realize just how selfish these companies were until now. He is right we should take their power away, which would not allow them to "bend Washington to their will." Just because these companies have money does not mean that they don't have to follow the rules. The fact that they have the power to make "the planet tank" shows just how much power they have. It needs to be reduced. I think the news should also portray these companies as more selfish and bad. I also like the religious aspect he puts in to his points. As we have been discussing in class, religion does play a big role in the way people think. It influences our culture. It is good to hear that religious leaders are no longer ignoring these issues, but joining the cause.

Mikayla Bonnett

Maria-Vitoria Bernardes said...

I really enjoyed reading this article. It really made me think of how when we come to such problomatic issues, religion is always incoorporated with it. A lot of concerning issues in the world fall back on religion and morality; on what is essentially right or wrong and what is the right thing to do. The author makes some good points on how fossil fuel companies are going to "burn the planet" and they just don't care. It is just about the now and the most income they can make. McKibben is totally right we should take their power away because as long as they have the power to do what they want they will not stop doing what they are doing. He reiterates on how we need to divest in these companies but how it will not be easy but will be a start to decreasing these companies power. He states how "it will not bankrupt the fossil fuel companies, however, begin the process of politically bankrupting them, and making it harder for them to bend Washington to their will". This is why religion is so important with congregation action can indeed be taken , and will make a big difference.

Maria-Vitora Bernardes

Ashley Unangst said...

I think the author says it best when he writes, in point #6, "Divestment is not a single easy solution to global warming." Just as we've established when talking about paradigm won't be instantaneous, nor will there be only one solution. No solution to heal or aching planet will be instantaneous especially - all will lead to a domino effect, theoretically, leading to a world not dependent on fossil fuels.

I've always personally been intrigued in the true interconnections between politics and the environment, and this is just one of many. Money talks! I never really thought of religious thoughts and beliefs effecting or shaping the way we utilize or use the environment, however, he makes good points, and his use of these groups specifically is great evidence.

Anonymous said...

The article presented here uses great examples to help persuade people to take action against the large fossil fuel companies. The point about the company Chevron influencing politics was moving. I find it hard to believe that people can take some politicians seriously when it is shown that their funding comes from fossil fuel companies such as Chevron. The point on number six is a great solution for normal people to take action. I think its great that cities such as Seattle are divesting. Maybe Seattle will set an example for other cities to follow.

-Frazer Winsted

Anonymous said...

I like how this post addresses the problem from many different view points. By formatting it this way, it establishes a common ground for everyone from all walks of life. This issue effects all of us and will continue to do so if we follow 'business as usual'. I think the point McKibben made about respecting nature now as humans were instructed to do so in the Garden of Eden is powerful. Regardless of religious standing, I think that in general, we all seek to be moral and ethical beings. By supporting these energy companies, we are supporting the degradation of our planet; the nature that helps us sustain life.
-Emma Weis

Anonymous said...

I think it's really interesting that this article presents viewpoints that most people can connect to. In order for people to want to address this issue and in order for people to believe that it's a problem, people need to understand the issue in simple enough terms. Presenting the issue in terms that everyone can relate to puts everyone on equal terms. There is no confusion about the issue or where the author stands on it. There is only the facts, plain and simple, that we need to do something about the issue at hand. The author states the facts and says that regardless of where you stand, regardless of what religion you follow or whatever moral obligations you feel specifically in that religion, we all as a society have a moral obligation to the planet and to protect it against degradation.

-Marrina Gallant

Anonymous said...

I think all of the points that he made were valid in some sort of context. He lays it out very clearly in bullet point format, and states it clear for everyone to know. Whether people want to hear it or not, this is an issue that really needs to be addressed in society today. I especially like the point that he makes about needing to have less corruption in our politics and government today. This is something I truely believe is one of the first steps in promoting a greener fuel industry. Once the corporations aren't able to get money from the government, most of their funding will be gone, which will be a true test to see if they will be able to withstand the American people and the greater society at large. Without this money, I believe, they will eventually go under, as people start to realize that this is an issue worth addressing. As he states in the article also, not only are citizens willing to participate, but world groups, religious groups from all over the world are willing to get this movement started which is great. However, the first step in this plan is to cut off the funding coming from our government.

Leanna Molnar

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this article. It was very well written and gets the point across effectively. It highlights the negatives of fossil fuels and lists the viable alternatives while stating that most everyone is limiting their dependence on fossil fuels. This article supports Moncrief's idea of the root of the ecological crisis, we are disconnected from nature and need to change our economic system in order to reverse the damage done to our environment.


Sulana Robinson said...

I think this article is very useful in the way of informing us of our usage and such. But especially, the importance of understanding the way things work. Looking at history, and seeing how flaws have brought us to certain current circumstances and how, by observing, we can do things differently. I definitely agree with Micaelas point about values. I think that its an important need to change our values in order to change how things are for the better.

Anonymous said...

This article is great. It shows very clearly the impact on the world companies like Exxon have. Many people today turn a blind eye to this sort of thing. It's a harsh reality to realize the damage that we have caused to that planet that is irreversible, in fact if you google the word irreversible an article that reads: Climate Change Dangers Are 'Higher Than Ever'. Many people also don't know the power companies like Exxon have over our government, we are in so much debit to companies like that. We are due for a major change.

- Juliana Cesario

Michael Tierney said...

Solving our fossil fuel addiction is almost impossible at this time. However, this article is an amazing way to learn and realize the step that needs to be taken is divest. When we give these fossil fuel companies less of our money to play with and more responsibility for the biproducts that all these fossil fuels burn, it will really give us a better path to save our planet. People won't stop using fossil fuels, but they need to REDUCE. With reducing, we need to reduce our financial resources of which we need to divest out of these companies. Also, what this article made me come to realize is that when we start to divest, we will start to loosen the grip that these powerful companies have on our government. Less money and less resources equals less power. the less power these companies have the better off everyone will be. Gas prices will have to come down, our carbon footprints will have to be reduced, and government will be much less influenced by these super powered fossil fuel companies.

Gian Joseph said...

I found this article very informational. I think I like the term divesting, because it describes cutting back overtime as opposed to just cutting off all investment at once which can cause a major economical breakdown or crisis. I agree with the writer that religious leaders of all religions have a responsibility towards this movement, but it will not all be effective unless the global companies such as Exxon or Chevron, or even HSBC bank take divesting on themselves. These companies are built on the very principles or economics and business that have brought us to this point of the climate change crisis. I believe that these companies are not willing because they are strongly greed driven, like this business layout these companies believe in profit over everything and that there is profit in everything, even if that profit is off the death of billions and the death of the planet.

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Anonymous said...

Divestment, in my opinion, is one of the most important ways to take power away from oil companies in regards to their political influence. It is one of the most influential movements across the country right now, with schools all across each and every state urging their schools to stop supporting these planet harming companies. With so many religious figureheads behind the movement, it is surprising that it has not gone farther than it already has. It is also an important avenue to influence these companies because it is something that individuals can do. In the current political sphere, it can be easy to think that as an individual, one does not have any say(due to the limited voice of one person, especially compared to the influence that these big oil conglomerates hold). Divestment provides a direct avenue for people to express their disapproval of big oil companies and hopefully incite change.

-Elizabeth Eggimann

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