Thursday, December 20, 2012

Divestment 3: Hip Hop & Push Back

I bumped into the endowment manager of a small liberal arts college at a holiday party. I asked about the practical concerns some have expressed about the feasibility of divesting from fossil fuels, when endowments allocate assets to various management funds who invest in co-mingled funds, and the like. His response was straightforward: "no problem, I could get us out of fossil fuels next week, and if the investment committee tells me to do it, I will, doesn't matter to me."

I'm not sure if that perspective would be universal among endowments managers, but it may put that aspect of the conversation to bed.

Although I'm not sure that's good news for the divestment movement.  The more I look at this, the more convinced I become that the best thing for the goals of the campaign would be if most endowments continue to refuse to divest.

As this post by Carol Pierson points out, negative SRI screens have had little impact on curbing things like guns and tobacco over their long history. As I pointed out in this previous post, it's unlikely that if all endowments sold their fossil fuel stocks, the markets or fossil fuel companies would notice.

What fossil fuel companies, the markets, and the general public will likely notice is millions of students raising hell. And if endowments continue to stand their ground, that could happen. The campaign has now spread to 192 campuses.

The divestment movement also got a boost from skeptics with a WSJ opinion piece by Robert Bryce (subscription required). Divestment proponents were quick to point out Bryce's financial ties to the fossil fuel industry and provide rebuttals to his argument.

Fox News also acknowledged the campaign (and tried to dismiss it as childish).

The campaign is also getting wisely leveraging the arts to get people involved -- too often sustainability efforts focus on science, dire warnings, and restricting behavior.  I'm convinced the only way to really engage people in leading the kinds of changes needed to create a sustainable society is through the arts. Here's one example with the official divestment music video:

Stay going.

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