One of the main reasons why divestment is effective is because it highlights the anti-social status of the fossil fuel industry and reveals how it coerces society into using its products. As I wrote in an article for The Nation:
“The divestment movement exposes the coercive tactics of the fossil fuel industry and challenges its free market mythology. Critics say that divestment isn’t necessary if individual consumers simply use their buying power to choose to not purchase fossil fuels. But the divestment movement confronts that sophistry, revealing how the fossil fuel industry coerces consumers into using carbon-based energy.”
Here are four of the ways in which a dominant industry influences our society:
1) Media: Around 97 percent of climate scientists confirm anthropogenic global warming. Yet only 44 percent of Americans believe that most scientists agree the earth’s atmosphere is warming at an unprecedented rate, and 36 percent say that there is disagreement among scientists. The gap in the data is mostly due to the influence of paid climate change deniers.The Koch Brothers and other wealthy donors give millions of dollars to shadowy organizations like Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, which then give that money to entities like the Heartland Institute—an extreme right-wing think tank that propagates anti-science and anti-global warming commentary.
2) Government influence: The fossil fuel industry dominates the American energy and political landscapes. From 2002 to 2008, fossil fuel companies received $72 billion in federal subsidies–six times the funding that went to renewable energy. Now Exxon Mobil is the most profitable company in the world. As a result, the fossil fuel industry is able to pour millions of dollars into political lobbying, spending twenty times more than the clean energy lobby. In the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney received $13 million in donations from fossil fuel companies. Barack Obama received only $950,000 over the past two years from the industry
3) Automobile industry: The fossil fuel industry’s efforts to inhibit change are so effective that, by the end of the 1990’s, the average car or truck went about a mile less per gallon of gas than 10 years earlier The fossil fuel lobby combined with the automobile industry lobby to block legislation that would mandate higher levels of fuel efficiency in cars and trucks.
4) Waxman-Markey Bill: When the American Clean Energy and Security Act was proposed in Congress, the fossil fuel lobby ramped up spending, convincing enough Senators to veto the bill. Theda Skocpol’s recent report also alludes to this phenomenon. (I will post soon about Theda’s report!)
Some food for thought. These points refute the idea that it’s the individual’s fault for using fossil fuels. It’s not our fault because we have no choice. It’s not a free market. Divestment is declaring a new kind of freedom, a freedom that allows individuals to choose an energy source that doesn’t actively threaten their future.