>To be effective, a huge amount of money must be withdrawn from a company. Where boycotting unites individual buyers to have impact, individual stockowners aren’t likely to make a huge enough hit with divestment or negative investing for a corporation to take notice. Institutional owners, though, could impact a company or industry because collectively they control vast amounts.
The Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign
The current student campaign to divest from fossil fuels is interesting. For example, Harvard has $30 billion in endowment while Yale has $16.7 billion.
While it’s clearly not all in one company or industry, what kind of impact could university endowments have if they withdrew from fossil fuel companies and allied industries? By my count, there are well over a hundred campaigns at universities around the nation, and there are additional groups working to get towns and communities to join the fight. As a collective action, the potential for these divestment campaigns is fascinating to ponder.
Mass Divestment Creates Cultural Change
Perhaps the most important thing divestment shares with boycotting is publicity. The attention that a mass divestment can bring to an issue could be profound. The student fossil fuels divestment effort is garnering national media attention, and rather than fizzling out seems to be gaining momentum. This attention could be as effective as actual divestment for dealing with climate change and fossil fuel issues.
As Cecelie Counts wrote in January, divestment was just one tool used to combat apartheid and bring change in South Africa. I don’t know if there will be mass divestment among universities, but I suspect that this campaign will be successful in the long run because it’s educating a generation and could create the cultural change necessary to pursue long-term alternatives, change policy and pressure energy companies to adapt.<
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