Divestment has become a big issue. Heck, The Blue and Gray Press (and all its glory) has the word “Divestment” in big print on practically every one of its cover pages. I am on the President’s Council on Sustainability (PCS), and was also on the Subcommittee on Divestment that just released Report on Divestment (I was in it three times!). I was also the only “no” vote. I am not writing this because I am “bitter about being in the minority”, nor am I upset about the report. I thought it was a very well written and informative report, and in my vote I made that very clear. I voted no not because of the report, but because of, well simply, divestment. So let’s discuss the other side of divestment.

Before we go any further, I want to make one thing clear. I am not “pro” fossil fuels. I am on PCS because I do believe in sustainable energy, I am a big proponent of clean energy, and my project on PCS is actually to limit energy usage and hopefully shift towards renewable energy. What I am not for is throwing sustainable anything at a wall and hoping it sticks. The thing about sustainability is that you get one shot at it, and you better make it good. One attempt without planning it through, and you face opposition in every other step. Sustainability is the right move, but it’s not cheap up front. So when you do it, you better take your time and get it right the first time.

So what is Divestment?

In its broadest terms, divestment is removing stock. It is pulling stock out of a company for “moral” reasons.

Universities hold a portion of their funds through what is known as an “endowment.” An endowment is a fund that a university will use to essentially help pay the universities bills. They maintain this money through investing.

The current “divestment” movement focuses on fossil fuels. It focuses on pulling money out of fossil fuels to help end global warming/climate change/whatever it is called now.

Hey Sean! What do they mean by fossil fuels?!

That’s a great question! And it comes with a pretty unclear answer. Because essentially every company in america is someway dependent on fossil fuels, it would be impossible to specifically name what companies constitute “fossil fuels”, less it be everyone… So what does the divestment move focus on? It focuses on The Carbon 200. This is a list that specifically points to the top 200 carbon users/polluters, and they choose to point to that list on who to divest from.

Tldr; to divest is to remove stock in any company in The Carbon 200. Divestment is the push for that.

Ok… then what is Global Warming/Climate Change/Whatever it is Called Now?

EPA’s Report

NASA’s Report

New York Times

Picture of a cat with a watermelon hat

Tldr; It is alot… don’t feel like getting into it… something something ozone… something something extreme weather at both ends of the spectrum… something something big issue.

Cool… can we just hear your opinions on divestment?

Finally, the big questions.

Did I vote for divestment? No. Why? It wasn’t the report, it wasn’t the idiotic protests, and it wasn’t the idiotic people running those protests…. it was just… the core concept. So here, I broke it down into three easy reason:

  1. Divestment does nothing except to take your voice out of the entity you are trying to reform. It will not cripple the company. Divestment does not work.
    • You can sell your stock in something, but that doesn’t mean someone isn’t just going to come by and buy it for cheap. And guess what? There’s no guarantee that person might just care less about the environment than you do. By having stock in a company, you have say in that company. That company must listen to you as a stockholder. When you sell it? You mean nothing anymore to the company. The fossil fuel industry is billions of dollars and provides a vital service to the economy… they don’t need to care about what someone outside of their stock says.
    • BEFORE PEOPLE SAY: “Well, it worked to end the apartheid.” That was South Africa. A country. They have to listen to other countries and they need to listen to public opinion. Also it was racism and discrimination and whatever else… not fossil fuels. It is not the same thing. Its like comparing apples and the holocaust.
    • Analogy time:
      • I own a house. I don’t like the neighborhood anymore, it is getting to rundown or to Jew-ey (its ok, I’m Jewish) or whatever. Whatever it is, I don’t like it. So now I have two options:
        1. I can stay and try to change the neighborhood. I can push, as a resident, to organize cleanups, or kick the Jews out, or push the neighborhood in the right direction. I am a resident of the neighborhood, I am in that community, and the neighborhood/board listens to what I have to say.
        2. I can move out. But here’s the issue with moving out… the neighborhood is still there. Even though I’m not living in the neighborhood, it is still there and in existence, and now that I moved out, I can’t change anything anymore. I’m not a part of that neighborhood, the residents don’t care about me anymore.
    • That is like owning stock in a company. You want a say in the company? You keep your stock and try to make a difference. Otherwise you can sell it to someone who may care less, but its still there.
    • Even the report acknowledges, divestment will not cripple the fossil fuel companies. It is nothing but a blank statement.
  2. Divestment isn’t possible, and partly hypocritical.
    • Great! We just divested! The fossil fuel companies are crippled! Now what?
      • Gas prices go up. America’s infrastructure relies on people being able to drive, even the people who want to divest.
      • All of us depend on fossil fuel for power, heating, cooling, ect.
      • Does America have an infrastructure that can support total sustainable energy within the timespan divestors want?
      • Is it not fossil fuels that are needed to build these sustainable resources (nuclear plants, wind turbines, solar panels)?
  3. An endowment is a economic resource for the university. Not a political tool.
    • I get it. Your cause is the “end all” of causes. There will be no cause like it for the rest of time… you know who else said that? Every person with a cause… ever.
    • Our professors get paid crap, our staff get paid worse, and tuition is on the rise every year. We need to renovate half the campus from the prohibition era, and we need to fund research more. We need every dollar we can get.
    • Even a big push from DivestUMW that group on campus that supports divestment has fought against tuition rise. Well by limiting investment options, we open ourselves up for no other options.

Tldr; divestment does not work, it is a statement that does not even make sense itself. Also an endowment is an economic resource. Not a political tool. By limiting our endowment, we open ourselves up to more tuition and fee spikes.

Great… You done yet Sean?

Yep. Climate change is a thing, sustainability is the future and it saves money. Divestment is, however, an example of throwing “shit at a wall and hoping it sticks”. Just because it is sustainable doesn’t mean it is the answer.

Sustainability is about picking your battles, and making sure what you do produces tangible results. Divestment won’t.