By Sam King
A new movement is sweeping the nation, based on an old tactic: divestment. In the past 6 months, over 300 Universities and 74 cities and towns across the United States have begun campaigns to divest from the fossil fuel industry. And there have already been victories. Five Colleges: Hampshire, Unity, College of the Atlantic, Santa Fe Art Institute, and Sterling; along with the City of Seattle, have become the moral leadership for this young effort.
What is divestment?
Divestment is the opposite of investment. It is withdrawing investment from companies that are socially or ethically objectionable. The current movement to divest from fossil fuels is seen as a chance to build the power capable to tackle the single greatest threat to our future: climate change.
In the late 1970’s and early 80’s students and towns across the United States withdrew their financial backing from the brutal and racist Apartheid government of South Africa. Apartheid ended in 1994, in part thanks to this divestment movement that diminished the profits that kept the Apartheid government in power. Many students and community members could not travel to South Africa to confront this issue, but by showing their solidarity with the oppressed peoples there, they were able to make a monumental impact.
The current divestment movement recognizes the moral significance in the same way that those fighting Apartheid did. The fossil fuel industry profits from the effects of climate change, which, according to the overwhelming majority of scientists, is the greatest threat to our continued civilization. We now know that this isn’t a future threat either. Climate change is responsible for the deaths of up to 400,000 people per year according to a report by DARA International and most of these people are from the least advantaged places in the world. We are also seeing major catastrophies caused by unsafe fossil fuel infrastructure in the past month. Over 13 oil spills have occurred, totaling at least 1,185,000 gallons of oil and toxic chemicals.
In a recent speech I made at a Divestment Teach-In on the UMass Amherst campus, I showed that divestment is the right tactic, because it builds student and community power; it leverages economic markets to act on our behalf, and, historically, it has worked. The environmentalist movement has needed a tool to confront climate change. Bill Mckibben’s remarked in his recent Rolling Stone article, that, “The rapidly spreading divestment movement may be the single biggest face of the [Fossil Fuel] Resistance.”
To jumpstart the economy that we want to see in the world, full of thriving local businesses and services, we need to reinvest locally. What better way, than to do it by taking our money out of businesses that harm us?
These are some of the options available where we live:
- You can invest to help local food enthusiasts, Real Pickles, become a worker owned cooperative. Investing in Real Pickles is an great way to help us build our local economy, invest in cooperatives, and build a vibrant, regional, organic food system! You can learn more at: www.realpickles.com/invest. Contact Real Pickles directly with any questions or to receive a prospectus.
- You can help the Dorchester Community Food Co-op in an initiative to build a community & worker-owned cooperative market that provides economic opportunity and healthy affordable food. They need help to raise additional $800 for their Vision Fund. Please read! http://dotcommcoop.wordpress.com/
- And you can help bring community owned renewable energy to our delicate world by joining Co-op Power. Members can make loans to support our energy efficiency programs and to help us finish building Northeast Biodiesel. Every membership and member loan helps us come closer to building a more just and sustainable energy future in our region.
How do I get involved?
Learn more about the divestment movement here. This website will tell you all about how you can help you or your church, town, organization, or school school to divest from the fossil fuel industry. This may seem like a small thing, but by doing it, you are helping to transition our world away from an economy based on exploitation, to an economy based on cooperation. To quote Anti-Apartheid activist, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “There is no greater testament to the basic dignity of ordinary people everywhere than the divestment movement of the 1980s.” Let’s reignite that force for justice together again.
Below: Students at UMass form the word ‘divest’ at their Teach-In.