Monday, December 17, 2012

McKibben,, Outlaw Fossil Fuel Companies, and the Divestment Strategy

[Sign up now for the "DIVESTMENT" action session at the FEBRUARY 16, 2013, CLIMATE CRISIS SESSION in Chicago!]


Brendan Leonard - UChicago Climate Action Network, University of Chicago

Dylan Amlin - Chicago Youth Climate Coalition, Roosevelt University


In recent months, Bill McKibben and have started talking about a divestment campaign directed at the "outlaw" fossil fuel companies. At our September 23 meeting, we started discussing this idea, identified pros and cons, and agreed to discuss the idea in greater detail at future meetings.

Bill McKibben will be in Chicago on November 28 as part of his national speaking tour (November 7 - December 3, 2012).



Global Warming's Terrifying New Math: Three simple numbers that add up to global catastrophe - and that make clear who the real enemy is - by Bill McKibben, founder of, in Rolling Stone. In this article, which went viral on the Internet during the summer of 2012, McKibben wrote, "We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn. We'd have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground to avoid that [catastrophic temperature increases]."

Bill McKibben: Go After the “Outlaw” Fossil Fuel Companies - Quotes from McKibben's talk at Fighting Bob Fest in Madison, WI, September 15, 2012: “It is possible to stand up to the fossil fuel industry. But it will take compassion, spirit, and creativity. We’ve run out of fingers to put in the dike. Now we need to make a fist.” . . . “These guys are outlaws. They are outlaws against the laws of physics and chemistry. And it’s up to us to bring them to justice.” . . . “We can’t do it politically, because the system is owned by people with unlimited money, including the fossil fuel industry. That’s why we’ve had a perfect bipartisan two-decade record of accomplishing nothing.”  . . . “The only language they understand is money. We need to tell them, ‘If you want to take away the future of our planet, we’ll take away your money.’”

For more resources, see the list at Is It Time for a Climate Crisis Summit in Chicago?.


Selected FAQs from the website:

Why divestment?
In short: it just doesn’t make sense for universities to invest in a system that will leave their students no livable planet to use their degrees on, or for pension funds to invest in corporations that will ruin the world we plan to retire in. The one thing we know the fossil fuel industry cares about is money. Universities, pension funds, and churches invest a lot of it. If we start with these local institutions and hit the industry where it hurts — their bottom line — we can get their attention and force them to change. This was a key part of how the world ended the apartheid system in South Africa, and we hope it can have the same effect on the climate crisis.

How much money do universities and pension funds have wrapped up in the fossil fuel industry?
It’s hard to say exactly — many endowments and funds suffer from a lack of transparency, so it’s impossible to get precise numbers on this question. Here’s what we do know: according to the Carbon Tracker Institute, at today’s market value, the 2,795 gigatons of carbon that the fossil fuel industry already has in its reserves are worth about $27 trillion. If we need to keep 80 percent of those reserves in the ground, that’s a $20 trillion write off for the industry. We’ll need a lot of pressure.

How can I divest my own money from fossil fuel companies?
We’ve heard a lot from people who want to divest their own savings from fossil fuel companies. That’s a good place to start, but remember that the impact of getting your University’s $1 billion endowment to divest is much, much larger than divesting $100 of your own money.That said, there are a number of great resources to compare and contrast Socially Responsible funds. As with any investment, take the time to read through all the fine print, and make sure you’re making the right financial choice for you. We’re not money managers, so before you make any decisions, make sure to talk to a professional.The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment has the best comparison of Socially Responsible Mutual Funds available.


* What are the range of opportunities for participation in a divestment campaign? e.g. research, public education, local organizing, mass protest, direct action?

* What do we need to understand about the relationship of fossil fuel companies to capital markets? What are the mechanisms that might be responsive to the arguments of a divestment campaign? Which ones would not be?

* What do we need to understand about government support for the fossil fuel industry? To what degree must a divestment campaign take on this government support (as well as investment in the companies themselves)?

* How would the nuclear industry fit into such a campaign?

* Can a campaign of divestment be a mass movement? Or would it inherently be limited to a small subset of the population? (Is it "elitist"?)

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