Updated: May 13
Divestment is How We Win Against The Chokehold of Fossil Fuels by Marina Xochitl Tricks and Marvin Li
Last Tuesday, Harvard’s Faculty voted 179 to 20 to divest fossil fuels from Harvard’s $40 billion endowment. This decision comes after years of climate activism held by groups such as Divest Harvard and Fossil Free Yale that have campaigned against their university’s investments in the fossil fuel industry. Last November, these two groups stormed the annual Harvard-Yale football match and gained wide support from both their peers and social media. Harvard’s recent vote adds more weight to the work that activists and students have been doing and exerts more social pressure on the institution to act accordingly and divest. Universities all around the world are waking up to their students’ demands and are committing to divestment. In January, half of universities in the UK committed to divest from fossil fuels. Social pressure is causing universities to realize that students will no longer sit idly by as our educational facilities - that are meant to better our future prospects - are in fact complicit in climate breakdown and endangering both our futures as well as the lives of frontline communities across the world.
Universities are not alone in this move from fossil fuels. In January, The Guardian became the first major news organisation to declare that it would no longer accept advertising funds from fossil fuel companies. Climate activists from around the world have long expressed their frustration at the lack of media coverage of the climate crisis as well as energy companies using advertising to 'greenwash’ their work. With a ban like this, The Guardian hopes to instill public approval and credibility. Declining fossil fuel money makes a news organisation look more transparent and unbiased as it ensures that there is a lack of vested interest when reporting on the climate crisis. We urge other media organisations to take this bold and important step.
The need for divestment is not only important from a moral perspective but also from an economic point of view. The fossil fuel industry is deeply entrenched in public life and has great economic importance - however, top economists like James Galbraith, Juliet Schor, Jeffrey Sachs, and Yanis Varoufasis are increasingly backing away from investing in this industry and have even called for ‘an end to fossil fuel development’. Aside from the fact that a lack of climate mitigation will be immensely costly for the economy, investing in infrastructure that will not hold its value is frankly foolish. A coal plant that is expected to be below water in 30 years time quickly moves from being an asset to a liability and fossil fuel companies are consistently underperforming in their market average in pretty much every major stock exchange in the world. Divestment from the fossil fuel industry with the aim of moving towards cleaner and renewable energy is not only an opportunity to create new jobs but also a chance to build infrastructure that will hold its value, benefit the economy and provide a more sustainable society.
Finally, With COP26 approaching, it is important to look at the need for policy change on a global scale. In Madrid last year, the COP25 failed to deliver firm agreements on how to handle carbon markets as big emitters are still able to buy the right to pollute from countries that emit less. Governments from several developed countries were looking for loopholes so that their big polluting companies could continue to pollute. Countries like Norway are an example of such problems. Although often praised for its low carbon footprint, almost half of the country’s total exports are crude oil and gas - but as their fossil fuels are exported before being combusted, the emissions are allocated to other countries. It is easy to claim to fight climate change when your pollution is exported to often developing nations. Policies like this need to be reviewed. However, as climate activists, we are skeptical that real policy change will take place if we continue to allow fossil fuel companies, with vested interests, into the policy making discussion. At COP25, frontline, and indigenous activists were excluded from the meeting space whilst polluters held 74 side events through the International Emissions Trading Agency (IETA). IETA clients include industry giants such as BP, Eni, and Spanish energy firms Endesa and Iberdrola, both of which contributed to over €2,000,000 to obtain “platinum sponsorship” of the Conference.1
Under the influence of such polluters, no significant progress was made at the Conference of Parties. Our generation is tired of being sidelined in favor of short-term profits and the interests of powerful fossil-fuel corporations. We will no longer tolerate the fossil fuel companies that block our efforts to address the climate crisis. This is why organisations like PollutersOut have been recently created to tackle these precise issues and remove polluting industries from these crucial discussions.
If we want to make policymakers listen, we need to keep putting constant pressure on them; divestment initiatives provide a way to do this.
In the year ahead, Zero Hour will continue in its efforts to hold adults and elected officials accountable for their legacy of destruction and inaction when it comes to climate change, and will urge businesses and organisations to divest from fossil fuels. Importantly, we will continue pushing for the youth, people of colour, low-income, indigenous and frontline communities to be at the center of climate policy-making discussions instead of polluting fossil fuel industries.
1. Patrick Galey, Fossil fuel groups ‘destroying’ climate talks: NGOs (December, 7, 2019)
About the Authors
Marina is a 19 year old, British Mexican. She is a social activist who mainly focuses on climate justice, women’s health and youth violence. She has recently set up the non profit organisation PeriodLink to help fight period poverty in Ghana.
Marvin Li is the Editor of Zero Hour Medium blog. Li is a member of Zero Hour and from Salisbury, Maryland.