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Is 350's Carbon Divestment Campaign Complete?

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page and our Organic Transitions page.

I have much respect for Bill McKibben and 350.org, the organization he started. Future generations will hail the 350 activists of today as heroes. That said I am very worried about the pitfalls of 350′s current "Do the Math" campaign, which seeks to pressure universities, churches and other institutions to divest their investment portfolios of all fossil fuel stocks.

Though elegant in its simplicity - attacking Big Carbon directly - this symbolically charged strategy (or rather tactic) suffers three crucial weaknesses. First, it misrecognizes the basic economics of the fossil fuel industry and thus probably won't hurt it. Second, it misrecognizes the nature and function of the stock market. Third, it ignores the potentially very important role of government in addressing the climate crisis.

The divestment campaign flows from an excellent article McKibben wrote which makes the stark point that we cannot burn all the fossil fuel currently in the ground without crossing the line into truly dangerous, potentially self-fueling climate change. His punch line: We must attack the fossil fuel industry.

The 350 campaign has started with a big 21 city road show to get the word out. From there, smaller groups are starting to pressure universities, churches and other institutions to divest their fossil fuel stocks. The website for the 350′s tour explains the divestment strategy as follows:

 The one thing we know the fossil fuel industry cares about is money. Universities, pension funds, and churches invest a lot of it. If we start with these local institutions and hit the industry where it hurts - their bottom line - we can get their attention and force them to change.


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