Going fossil-fuel free – Stephen Devlin – NEF

FEBRUARY 13, 2015 // BY: STEPHEN DEVLIN

Fossil fuels are going to ruin our world long before they run out. That’s because, by anyone’s estimate, we cannot burn the vast majority of existing fossil fuel reserves if we’re to prevent catastrophic climate change. If we want to avoid a world of frequent natural disasters and horrific human sacrifice we no longer have the luxury of burning through existing reserves.

Of course, fossil fuel companies claim to be part of the solution to this problem. British Petroleum is now “Beyond Petroleum” and Shell is investing in carbon capture and storage projects. But these efforts have been less than pitiful. And why would we expect anything more? It’s blatantly not in these companies’ interests to hasten the arrival of a low-carbon world. Make no mistake: BP, Shell and every other fossil fuel company fully intend to burn everything they’ve got. It is becoming clear to more and more people that the business model of these companies requires environmental and human destruction.

No matter how much we individually benefit from oil and gas we must rid ourselves of that dependency, for everyone’s sake. It is for this reason that a surging movement of campaigners are demanding that our public institutions – universities, municipalities, faith groups, etc. – stop funding fossil fuel companies. Some of these institutions have enormous pots of money that they use to invest in stocks and the divestment campaign is asking them to take it out of fossil fuels and reinvest it in something else. Today is Global Divestment Day and thousands of people, from Sydney to Sweden, will be taking action to speak out against fossil fuel investments and make their voices heard.

But is this a reasonable demand?

Financially? The evidence overwhelmingly shows that fossil-free investment portfolios perform no worse than any others.
Legally? Most institutions have ethical investment policies that seem to reject fossil investments, and many universities will not invest in tobacco or arms companies.
Ethically? By pouring their money into fossil fuel companies public institutions implicitly endorse their plans to burn a climate-busting amount of reserves.
It’s already happening. Glasgow University, Stanford University, the World Council of Churches and the Rockefeller Foundation are among the institutions already committed to divestment.
I have been personally involved in UCL’s divestment campaign. This university is a prime example of fossil fuel companies using their links with respected institutions to prop up their legitimacy. Despite aspiring to be ‘a leader across the HE (higher education) sector in terms of environmental sustainability’ UCL has an estimated £21 million invested in fossil fuel companies and maintains a partnership with BHP Billiton, a huge mining company widely credited with a host of crimes against the environment and local peoples, which ironically funds UCL’s “Institute for Sustainable Resources”. All we’re asking is for UCL to start putting its money where its mouth is.

But what will divestment achieve? No one seriously expects to bankrupt fossil fuel companies overnight. But that’s not the point. By divesting from rogue companies whose continued mode of operation requires planetary destruction our institutions can make a powerful statement about the future we want. We can slowly remove fossil fuel companies’ moral licence and build the momentum that will carry us to a sustainable economy and society. It’s time to make a statement.

You can get involved too. Sign up to UCL’s divestment petition, or find out about campaigns happening across the UK.

ISSUES
Energy & Climate Change, Environment
Going fossil-fuel free

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