We first developed this guide to help student activists working on divestment. Now, the divestment campaign is quickly spreading to cities, states, religious institutions, and other community institutions. You’ll see that this guide is more focused on city divestment, but it should be easy to see how to adapt the talking points for wherever you’re working.
No matter where you’re working on divestment, the following pages should be an effective guide to help you communicate about your divestment campaign, whether you’re doing an interview with the press or just talking to an interested bystander. Quick tip: when doing a phone interview, keep this guide open so that you can reference it easily!
Good communicators often tell short, compelling stories that hit over-and-over again on their main points. A “messaging triangle” is a helpful tool that links each element of your story. You can start at any point of the triangle, depending on the question or context, and then connect to the other points.
Think of each bullet below as a point of the triangle:
- We’re already seeing the impacts of climate change in the extreme weather events that are now happening across the country.
- We have the solutions to solve this crisis, but we won’t see any political progress on the issue until we can weaken the power of the fossil fuel industry.
- Our city and state governments are dedicated to serving the public interest and have a responsibility to divest from an industry that’s destroying our future, and reinvest in solutions to climate change.
Here are some examples of how you can use the triangle:
Why do colleges need to divest from fossil fuels?
Our city shouldn’t continue to invest in companies that are causing the climate crisis. Extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy make it clear we need to act now in order to avoid climate catastrophe. We have the solutions to solve this crisis, but we won’t see any political progress on the issue until we can weaken the power of the fossil fuel industry.
Shouldn’t we work with the fossil fuel industry instead of divesting?
The fossil fuel industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the last decade to block any political action on climate change. Now, we know they plan on burning five times more carbon dioxide than scientists say is safe. It’s wrong for our city to continue to invest public money in this rogue industry. Unless we act now, we’ll continue to see more extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy. That’s not a future we should leave for our children.
Isn’t divestment a radical demand?
There’s nothing radical about asking for a planet that resembles something like the one we grew up on. Climate change is loading the dice for more extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy and the drought, wildfires, and floods that preceded it. The CEOs at fossil fuel companies are the radicals: they’re planning on burning five times more carbon dioxide than scientists say is safe to burn. Our city/state has a moral obligation to disassociate itself with this rogue industry.
As you can see, each answer hits on each point of the triangle — extreme weather, the fossil fuel industry, and colleges’ moral obligation to act — in some way.
Another useful tool is a messaging arc. Think of this as the core narrative you want to share with people when they ask you a general question about your campaign. Each point works on its own, but it’s best when you can tie it together. We’ve given you a super short and more extended messaging arc below.
- We’re calling on our city/state/religious institution to divest from fossil fuel companies.>
- It’s wrong to invest in companies that are causing the climate crisis and spending millions of dollars to block solutions.
- Divestment is a clear way for our local government to fulfill its duty to its citizens and help society address the climate crisis.
- Extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy and the drought, heat-wave, and wildfires that ravaged much of America this year, are potent reminders that we need to act now in order to avoid climate catastrophe.
- The fossil fuel industry plans to burn five times more carbon dioxide than we can emit and still keep warming below 2 degrees C, a target that the United States and nearly every other country on Earth has agreed to meet.
- We have the solutions necessary to prevent climate catastrophe, but every year the fossil fuel industry spends millions of dollars to spread misinformation about climate change, warp our political process, and block clean energy.
- We shouldn’t be investing our money in companies that are wrecking the planet we live on.
- Divestment is an effective way to weaken the power of the fossil fuel industry and open up the political space for change.
Here are some additional talking points that can help you make the case for divestment:
- Hurricane Sandy and the recent string of extreme weather events make it clear that we’re running out of time to avoid climate catastrophe.
- Every year, the fossil fuel industry spends hundreds of millions of dollars to corrupt our political process and block any action on climate change. They’re profiting while our children and communities pay the price.
- We shouldn’t be putting our money into an industry that is polluting our planet and corrupting our democracy.
- This is particularly true for cities and states, who shouldn’t be investing their pension funds in companies that are wrecking the planet which employees are going to retire on.
- Specifically, we’re asking for divestment from the 200 companies that hold the vast majority of the world’s coal, oil, and gas reserves. Scientists tell us that 80% of those reserves need to stay in the ground, but these companies continue to recklessly burn through them with no plan to stop.
- There’s no doubt that the fossil fuel industry has been profitable in the past, that’s because they’ve been able to pollute for free and make us pay the cost for years.
- But if governments finally act to address climate change, fossil fuel companies will be stuck with billions of dollars in stranded assets, all the coal, oil, and gas it’s no longer profitable to burn. That could cause their value to plummet.
- Meanwhile, there are lots of ways to make money beyond fossil fuels, whether it’s in other profitable investments, putting money into new clean energy technology, or investing in greening public infrastructure.
- The bottom line is that divestment is the only moral choice for institutions that care about the economy, society, and planet their students are going to inherit.
- In the 1980s, 155 campuses and a number of major pension funds, cities, and corporations divested from apartheid South Africa, helping accelerate that country’s journey to freedom.
- Now, we need to declare our freedom from fossil fuels. Divestment is the first step.