Divestment is the opposite of an investment – it simply means getting rid of stocks, bonds, or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous.
When you invest your money, you might buy stocks, bonds, or other investments that generate income for you. Universities (and colleges in the US), religious organizations, retirement funds, and other institutions put billions in these same kinds of investments to generate income to help them run. Fossil fuel investments are a risk for both investors and the planet, so we’re calling on institutions to divest from these companies.
There have been a handful of successful divestment campaigns in recent history, including those targeting violence in Darfur, tobacco advertising, and others, but the largest and most impactful one came to a head around the issue of South African Apartheid. By the mid-1980s, 155 campuses – including some of the most famous in the country – had divested from companies doing business in South Africa. 26 state governments, 22 counties, and 90 cities, including some of the nation’s biggest, took their money from multinationals that did business in the country. The South African divestment campaign helped break the back of the Apartheid government and usher in an era of democracy and equality.
Fossil fuel divestment takes the fossil fuel industry to task for its culpability in the climate crisis. By naming this industry’s singularly destructive influence — and by highlighting the moral dimensions of climate change — we hope that the fossil fuel divestment movement can help break the hold that the fossil fuel industry has on our economy and our governments.
Divestment is also about cutting your ties with the fossil fuel industry, Fossil fuel companies cultivate sponsorship relationships to help create a ‘social licence to operate’. This contributes to the veneer of legitimacy that enables them to keep expanding operations at a time of climate crisis and to stifle the demands for justice of those communities who live on the frontline of their destructive, polluting operations. Only a decade ago, tobacco companies were seen as respectable partners for public institutions. That is no longer the case. It is our belief that fossil fuel companies should be seen in the same light. The public is rapidly coming to recognise that the sponsorship programmes are means by which attention can be distracted from their impacts on human rights, the environment and our global climate. Breaking the sponsorship link between oil companies and institutions will not alone prevent disasters. It will not bring justice where it is due, but by creating an informed public debate questioning the acceptability of associating these companies with our institutions, we strengthen attempts to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable in political and financial spheres.