Drop In The Bucket

One argument that is made against fossil fuel divestment is that it would not accomplish anything since UH’s investments in the fossil fuel industry constitute a very tiny blip of overall market capitalization in the industry. That is besides the point.

Indeed, college and university endowments in the United States have only approximately $400 billion in assets under management, of which only 2 percent is invested in fossil fuels—as of August 2014, ExxonMobil’s market capitalization alone was $428 billion. However, the divestment campaign is a political, not economic, campaign. The point is to revoke the social license of an industry whose products and services are undermining the conditions necessary for a healthy planet, and whose political lobbying has been hampering legislation to sustain those conditions. An Oxford study found that in almost every divestment campaign from “adult services to Darfur, from tobacco to South Africa, divestment campaigns were successful in lobbying for restrictive legislation.”

Consequently, for someone to say that we should not divest in the face of a moral issue like climate change because we do not know if such a tactic would be effective is reprehensible. Did Rosa Parks do a cost-benefit analysis when refusing to give up her seat? Did the Montgomery Bus boycotters do the same? The economic argument is also irrelevant because it completely omits the symbolic and educational message that UH could send by divesting, namely that the world must decarbonize as soon as possible because time is running out. UH has a responsibility as a research institution that contributed to climate science to stand up for the scientific consensus that global warming must be kept below 2°C. There is an inconsistency between acknowledging this consensus and expecting long-term returns from an industry whose business model is incompatible with a warming world. UH must be a leader in this campaign and divest, tiny market capitalization notwithstanding.