What is Fossil Fuel Divestment?

Written by Baelyn Duffy

What is divestment? Why is divestment a strategy? How has divestment been successful in other campaigns? 

Divestment is the opposite of investment; it is withdrawing stocks, bonds, or investment funds from companies that profit off of unethical practices. Since 2011, a mass movement targeting divestment from the fossil fuel industry has grown. Fossil fuel divestment is a strategy many environmental justice groups have used to push institutions or universities to become more accountable to the communities they serve. 

You might ask, why is the fossil fuel industry so bad? The fossil fuel industry is the most powerful industry in the world, controlling not only business markets, but also much of the political world. Regardless of several fossil fuel companies’ efforts to portray concern about the environment, the burning of fossil fuels produces the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions every day. Greenhouse gases rise into the atmosphere, trapping heat in and creating huge changes in climate worldwide. These changes in climate cause extreme weather and climate events, like heat waves, droughts, floods, and natural disasters, which impact human life. With climate change rapidly increasing, we need to take action now and target the main perpetrator: the fossil fuel industry. 

Divestment is a great strategy, because it helps break the sponsorship link between oil companies and institutions, and holds the fossil fuel industry accountable in political and financial spheres.Eventually, fossil fuel divestment can break the hold that the fossil fuel industry has on our economy and on our government.

There have been many successful divestment campaigns in recent history, including those targeting violence in Darfur and targeting tobacco company advertising, but perhaps the most widely remembered divestment movement is the one which targeted the South African Apartheid. By the mid-1980s, 155 college campuses had divested from companies doing business in South Africa. 26 state governments, 22 counties, and 90 cities moved their money away from many companies that had business in South Africa. The campaign helped break the back of the apartheid government and helped promote democracy and equality by tarnishing the reputation of the regime. 

Most divestment campaigns, including our own, not only request divestment from fossil fuels, but also ask for that money to be reinvested in a socially responsible way. Luckily, there are many strong, profitable industries in our world to invest in which have socially conscious practices and which do not contribute to the oppression of communities of color. 

Divestment efforts may take time, but they provide a straightforward strategy to limiting the influence of the fossil fuel industry while resulting in a ripple effect in our social, political, and financial worlds.

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