Planet Earth Weekly

Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations


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Divest From Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels

Fossil fuels (Photo credit: London Commodity Markets)

By Lin Smith May 5, 2013—In the past 6 months organizers have begun campaigns on universities and in cities across the U. S. to divest in fossil fuels. Over 300 campuses and 100 cities are now looking at divesting and this movement has spread to Australia, Nederlands, and Britain. University students have stated, “It’s wrong for public institutions to teach and support environmental awareness but yet profit from damaging the environment.” The goal of the Divestment Campaign 350 is to “Challenge individuals and institutions to sell their stock in oil, gas, and coal producing companies because their current business model is leading to global catastrophe.” It’s the opposite of investment. It’s the movement currently taking place across the United States to divest their endowment funds from fossil fuels and place them in investments that support a healthy planet. What is a university endowment fund? Each university has money that is invested for the long term in different ways, much in oil and gas. It is money received from donors with the stipulation that the principal stay invested but the other moneys can be used as a never-ending source of support for purposes of the university. In 2007, over 60 universities had endowment investments of $1 billion or more. It is used to support faculty, programs, and student scholarships. This is the money that students across the United States are demonstrating for, to encourage the universities to sell their stock in fossil fuels to promote environmental change and place their investments in planet-healthy funds. An example of demonstrating to divest took place in the 1980s, anti-apartheid protesters wanted to end the oppression in South Africa. The movement first consisted of demonstrations only, but people in the movement discovered greater impact could be made on South Africa by pressuring their universities to divest stocks of companies doing business with South Africa. They were able to gain attention to the problems facing this country. By the end of the 1980s, 155 colleges had at least partially divested, with 90 cities, 22 countries, and 26 states taking some form of economic stance against the South African government. After drawing public attention to South Africa with these divestments, the U.S. government passed economic sanctions against the South African government. In the next 5 years 200 companies cut ties, ending South Africa’s business-as-usual, enabling blacks the right to vote. Nelson Mandela, after being jailed for 27 years as an anti-aparthied revolutionary, was elected the first black South African president! So can public pressure to divest work? South Africa is a good example of what a grass roots movement can accomplish! Finally, unless individuals and institutions specifically direct their investment managers not to invest in fossil fuels, they will most likely hold stocks in them, either directly or indirectly, as these stocks make up at least 15% of the U.S. market, i.e., mining, coal and oil burning utilities, oil drilling, ect. There are investment companies that support clean energy- one such company is Portfolio 21. Its president, John Streur has said it well, “Investing in fossil fuels today seems like investing in the whaling industry in the mid 1800s–old technology, still dominant but clearly not the future. Our ability to power the global economy beyond the current age of fossil fuels will be the most important and difficult transformation ever made by our industrial society!”  

Smog over China and Korea

Smog over China and Korea (Photo credit: eutrophication&hypoxia)