My generation gets it: We need to divest from fossil fuels

On February 13th and 14th, the world is celebrating Global Divestment Day. On these two days, we are demanding individuals and institutions around the world to lead on climate change by removing their investments from the fossil fuel industry.

After only a few years since the fossil fuel divestment movement began, there are now more than 700 campaigns around the world. The movement is growing faster than any previous divestment campaign, posing a significant threat to fossil fuel companies.

As of today, 181 institutions and governments and 656 individuals representing over $50 billion in assets have pledged to divest. In 2014, we saw Stanford University divest from its holdings in coal and the heirs to the Rockefeller oil fortune withdraw $860 million in assets from fossil fuel investments. And the industry is scared. In light of a recent Valentines’ Day campaign asking people to “break-up with fossil fuels”, an anti-divestment group launched a hilarious video arguing that ending our dependency on fossil fuels would destine us to a cold, dark world.

The science on climate is clear: if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change, two-thirds of existing fossil fuel reserves must stay on the ground. This is why 2015 is a key year to act. Countries all around the world are more and more cognizant of the threat climate change poses to development and progress. By the end of the year, the world expects the United Nations climate talks to deliver a global agreement on climate. And while this will only be the beginning of a longer path to decarbonize our economies, it is now more than ever that we must challenge the status quo and envision the world we want.

My generation understand this. We are not saying that the transition to a low-carbon economy will be easy. Or that we need to shut down all coal plants around the world tomorrow. But in our view, there is no other option besides transforming our energy matrices and economies. We are not waiting until the terrifying predictions of scientists become a reality. The climate impacts we have seen are enough.

We are not waiting until the terrifying predictions of scientists become a reality. The climate impacts we have seen are enough.

The divestment movement does not argue that divestment will solve the climate crisis – it won’t. We need political willingness, robust commitments, citizen initiatives, business leadership, and economy-wide legislation among other things. But what divestment will do – and has been doing in recent years – is take away the social license of fossil fuel companies to profit from destabilizing the climate. Divestment is in itself a financial and political tool to send the right signals to the market, highlight the risks of investing in fossil fuel reserves and condemn the practices of companies that continue to prioritize profits over the public interest. Moreover, it is a way to stand against the industry’s influence over our democracies as they spend millions on elections to maintain fossil fuel subsidies and protect their economic interests.

While many institutions continue to argue divestment will not make a difference, a recent Oxford report shows otherwise. The report argues that the divestment movement’s stigmatization of the fossil fuel industry “poses the most far-reaching threat to fossil fuel companies and the vast energy value chain.”

Many in leadership positions will say that endowments and funds are not to be used as political tools, ignoring that the decision of continuing to invest in these companies is political in itself. Whether we like it or not, our decisions regarding where our money is invested speak for ourselves.

Divestment has also raised the level of debate around socially responsible investment policies, sparking conversations about transparency and accountability of institutions, banks, cities and pension funds. Most importantly, the movement has helped us rethink where want our money to go and what kind of future we want to build.

My generation knows that a 21st century portfolio should no longer include investments in oil, coal and gas companies. We need to start re-investing in renewables. It is 2015 and we know better.

For more information on divestment click here.

The author is part of the Fossil Free Brown campaign at Brown University and a researcher at Nivela. You can follow her on Twitter at @MaCamilaBustos

Upcoming article sneak peek

What to Expect on Climate from Latin America's New Presidents?