According to the official Fossil Free website, “Divestment is the opposite of an investment – it simply means getting rid of stocks, bonds, or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous.” At WashU and on other college campuses, we want our university to divest its endowment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies by reserves.
Anthropogenic climate change is a crisis that demands our attention, and the fossil fuel industry is one of the biggest threats to our climate and the communities affected by its changes. Investments in fossil fuels contribute to this harm and should be ended. Institutions with such investments cannot ignore the impacts they are perpetuating and profiting from, as they continue to support such a destructive industry. Divestment can also put an end to the sponsorship of fossil fuel companies that gives them social power and allows them to further damage the lives of those on the frontlines who are already suffering.
Will it work?
Yes. Divestment has a long history. There have been a handful of successful divestment campaigns, but the biggest and most significant one was surrounding South African Apartheid. People in the United States and around the world called on their institutions to divest from companies doing business in South Africa. By the mid-1980s, the list of institutions that had taken their money out of these investments included prominent universities, state governments, countries, and cities all over the world. The South African divestment campaign was a major contributor to the end of the Apartheid government. A recent academic study demonstrates the very real impacts that major divestments have on fossil fuel stock prices.
Who is involved?
As of August 2019, the approximate value of institutions divesting had reached over $9 trillion, with over 1100 institutions divesting globally. These institutions include faith-based organizations, philanthropic foundations, governments, educational institutions, pension funds, and NGOs (see the full list and updated results here). More than 58,000 individuals have also made full or partial divestment commitments. Hundreds of divestment campaigns around the world are still calling on their leaders and institutions to remove their fossil fuel investments as well.
What can you do?