Matthew Alonsozana’s Feb. 5 op-ed betrays its supposed intent for “a more sustainable BC.” We in BC Fossil Free (BCFF) have the same goal-BC must reduce our campus footprint, and do so with quantified and clear goals-but we understand that such actions will do little to address the deepening climate crisis jeopardizing our future. As we correct some of Alonsozana’s mischaracterizations, we hope you will come to understand why young people on campus have been pushing for divestment and, more generally, fighting for climate justice.
Alonsozana says BCFF’s notion “that ‘pretty soon there won’t be any more fossil fuels in which to invest’ is wildly off the mark.” We do not know where the quote came from. We, in fact, believe the complete opposite and do not understand how someone “familiar with BC Fossil Free” could so poorly understand the issue. Proven reserves of fossil fuels-coal, oil, and gas-contain roughly five times the amount of carbon we can burn to maintain a decent chance of staying under the 2˚C (3.6˚F) threshold, which is the internationally agreed-upon limit that humanity must not cross. Our view is not a personal one. The most authoritative bodies in the world, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to the International Energy Agency to the World Bank, are all in agreement-we are on a crash course for a destabilized climate if we burn all those carbon reserves.
We agree with Alonsozana that the BC community “shouldn’t trust BCFF as our financial advisors.” But we are not asking that. Instead, we ask BC to take seriously the rigorous work conducted by the London School of Economics’ Carbon Tracker Initiative and many others. The assets of fossil fuel companies will plummet in value as concerned citizens pressure their governments to make good on their promise enshrined in the 22-year-old United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, ratified by 195 countries, to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference.” BC could take Alonsozana’s advice to “invest even more in energy,” or it could examine financial analyses conducted by MSCI, the Aperio Group, or Impax Asset Management. Their findings mirror those of S&P Capital IQ, that calculated the total returns of the S&P 500 Index with and without the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies. Over 10 years, a $1 billion investment that excluded these companies would have grown to $2.26 billion, a full $119 million more than the investment that included fossil fuel companies. That extra $119 million could have paid the entire tuition of Boston College’s freshman class, with nearly $20 million left over.
Alonsozana does not understand the theory of change behind divestment. The former chief economist for the World Bank, Nicholas Stern, said climate change represents “the greatest example of market failure we have ever seen.” Americans on the left and right now support action on climate to correct the market failure. However, the most profitable and powerful industry in the history of earth-the fossil fuel juggernaut-has Washington locked in chains. Beginning with its 20-year crusade to cast doubt on the science of climate change and continuing through its relentless corruption of our democracy, it is time we tamed the fossil fuel industry. Enter divestment-a coordinated attack against that central barrier to a stable climate.
Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment examined the fossil fuel divestment campaign and found that stigmatization poses a “far-reaching threat to fossil fuel companies and the vast energy value chain.” Divestment seeks to remove the social license of these firms. A year ago, those of us in the fight for climate justice cited divestment’s past success in helping to end South African Apartheid. Today, however, we can already claim some victories. “Coal Seen as New Tobacco Sparking Investor Backlash” ran as a Bloomberg headline last November. Storebrand, with $74 billion in assets, has already sold off coal and tar sands investments. Norway’s massive $800 billion-plus sovereign wealth fund is now considering selling off coal investments. The $233 billion Scottish Windows did so last year. Last September, a group of 70 investors with more than $3 trillion in combined assets wrote to 40 of the world’s largest fossil fuel firms urging them to assess the risks of the carbon bubble. Already divesting from fossil fuel companies writ large are 22 cities, nine universities, a plethora of religious institutions, philanthropic groups, and countless individuals.
Despite what Alonsozana thinks, BCFF continues to raise awareness on- and off-campus. We have reached more than 1,000 students directly in classroom presentations and in student groups. More than 1,000 members of the BC community have signed our divestment petition. BCFossilFree.org is well maintained, and we spread information and ways to get involved through Facebook and Twitter. We have three separate weekly meetings open to anyone, and five separate listservs. We will have a panel this Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Higgins 300 with BC’s own Jeremy Shakun, a financial expert, and a climate justice activist from Harvard.
As Alonsozana now knows, we remain more than willing to “debate openly [divestment’s] merits.” Thus we are pleased he has agreed to a student debate during Green Week, which begins Mar. 24. We hope to see you there and elsewhere as we continue fighting not just for our own future, but also for the poorest and youngest whose future becomes bleaker as we delay action.
Robert J. Wengronowitz