Divestment from fossil fuels is making its rounds again. The PHOENIX recently reported that the Student Environmental Alliance will be presenting to the university senate at its Dec. 5 meeting in an effort to persuade the senate to vote to divest from the university’s fossil fuel holdings. This is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea.
To begin with, divesting would do nothing to the companies that are being targeted. The stocks will still be on the market and eager investors will snatch them up within seconds of their availability. If divesting won’t have any tangible impact on anything, why bother to do it? The answer lies in the symbolism of the act. The real goal of the divestment movement — the realistic one — is to stigmatize fossil fuel companies until they collapse under their own weight.
Stigmatization is the only thing that such a symbolic move can accomplish at this point, but what begins in symbolism will, in the minds of divestment proponents, eventually end up dismantling the fossil fuel empire.
Don’t get me wrong — fossil fuels will one day be replaced by renewable energy. That is undeniably a good thing. I am not opposing the goal of the movement (the implementation of clean energy), but I am opposing the means and the timing of it. The here and now are not conducive to making a change from fossil fuels to a promising yet small renewable energy sector.
Fossil fuels have produced 87 percent of all energy in the United States in the last decade, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In 2011, renewable resources such as wind and solar energy contributed less than 2 percent of our energy. Energy that is not from fossil fuels or renewable resources comes from third party sources such as nuclear power, hydroelectric power and even wood.
In other words, pulling out of the fossil fuel industry now would wreck more than the energy sector — it would wreck our entire economy, from top to bottom, and leave no one unaffected. I, for one, quite like the things fossil fuels make possible and don’t want to involuntarily live like it’s the 18th century.
All of the above assumes Loyola divests in collaboration with other schools. Like a chain of dominoes, a concerted effort by institutions of higher education could actually change minds and win people over to “the cause.” But this won’t happen. The profit motive is a strong one, not to mention that divestment is poor economic policy in its own right and would produce even worse results if it actually worked. Surely our administrators can see that.
Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of divestment is that they want to create a “socially just” investment portfolio and divesting is one step closer to that goal. Fair enough. But the goal of a socially just portfolio does not absolve the movement of the consequences of its actions. Everything I said above would remain true, and if proponents think otherwise, they owe us all a pretty good explanation why.
Finally, the concept of divesting is inherently flawed. I’ll accept for a minute that Loyola’s hands are dirty with the fossil fuel stocks we own. But washing our hands of the stock will only transfer the immorality to someone else, whose hands will themselves become dirty. Even if we cleanse ourselves, someone else gets dirty. No one is clean or can ever be clean — so what’s the point of ditching the stock if someone else will be corrupted by it? That’s just as bad, if not worse, than hanging onto it. Wouldn’t it better to affect change from the inside out, while we own the stocks, than from the outside looking in? Common sense would say so.
I hope our administrators see through the rhetoric and see divestment for what it is: bad policy.
Dominic Lynch is a contributing columnist. You can contact him at email@example.com