I’ve been working on fossil fuel divestment for going on 5 months now, and I wanted to share three key messaging points that I have found to be effective. I’ll keep updating this list as time goes on, but these points have been crucial.
1) This is a moral movement. It is wrong for our universities to invest in companies that pollute without consequence and profit from destruction. The fossil fuel industry causes thousands of deaths each, year, and 100 million people are expected to die in the 18 years because of burning fossil fuels. With significant evidence linking fossil fuel use to climate change, there is no reason why educational institutions should continue to invest in these corporations. There are other profitable funds to invest in that protect financial aid and ensure financial security. But we must take a moral stand against business-as-usual in the fossil fuel industry and against global warming.
2) When people hear “fossil fuel divestment,” they think that the movement is about divesting from any company that is either implicitly or explicitly linked to fossil fuels. This is difficult because 20-30% of the average portfolio is comprised of fossil fuel stocks. Selling all of those stocks would require a major reconfiguration of the portfolio–especially if the portfolio is billions of dollars. But 350’s ask–and the ask that most schools are adopting–is to divest from the top 200 companies that own the majority of fossil fuel reserves. That means that the movement is targeting companies that profit from extraction. We are not targeting the refinement or transportation companies. And it means that it will not require investors to reconfigure significantly their portfolios. In Harvard’s public SEC filings (which show 1/31 of our investment), we are invested in just 1 of the 200 companies.
3) We want to work with our universities to uphold the values that they espouse. Using Harvard as an example: we have top climate scientists raising red flags about the seriousness of climate change. The Office for Sustainability has created fantastic green programs across campus, installing renewable energy, constructing green buildings, and providing opportunities for students to engage with environmental advocacy. Yet, when it comes to our investments, Harvard supports companies that threaten to offset all of the advances that we make on campus. We want to work with the university to make sure that our investments are responsible and align with the values that are taught in the classroom and showcased around campus.
Those are my thoughts for today. Until next time!