Divestment: Casting Off the Ties

“If it’s wrong to wreck the planet, then it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.” That’s divestment from a moral perspective. A tactical reasoning goes like this: An institution invested in fossil energy has a reason for that industry to get its own way; but, when the institution divests, it frees itself to work for the good of humankind.

Divestment is opening a new ’front’ in the war against global climate change. It can ‘change the conversation’ in universities and other institutions. But it’s not merely a symbolic gesture. It’s a real blow at the tap-root of the carbon fuel megalith: the reliable flow of capital. Fracking, in particular, is a ‘cash sink’ for gas companies: They need new investment dollars to lease and drill new acreage; but, at today’s prices, the gas doesn’t cover their costs. Instead, they book ‘paper profits’ against some future value for the acreage, and then circle back to the financial markets for yet more working capital.

You can join the divestment effort, even if you don’t have wealth of your own. Think about any other institution who “uses” your money. Do you carry insurance (life, health, or other)? Where does that insurance carrier invest its assets? What about any religious affiliations, college alumni office, or union? Talk with your local government. (A divestment campaign is already starting in the City of Pittsburgh.)

And, if you aren’t comfortable making a moral, or a climate-change case, ask the money manager this: “What are you doing to protect your/my investment from ‘stranded carbon’ losses?” Because those huge paper assets will become worthless when carbon fuel is finally seen for what it is: A toxic substance, of no use to a world that’s moving away from the brink of climate extinction.