The planet is close to its climate change tipping point, but three panelists hosted by BC Fossil Free on Feb. 26 in Higgins 300 led discourse on how divesting from fossil fuels could help reduce damage to the environment.
Divesting is a tactic where schools, churches, and cities take money out of an industry they find morally reprehensible and invest it in something else, said panelist Alli Welton said.
BC Fossil Free, an unregistered student group that is working to persuade the University to divest, hosted Divest For Our Future: A Panel Discussion on Divestment. The organization applied to be a registered student organization in the fall, but was rejected because their goal is to push the administration in a certain direction, said Alyssa Florack, A&S ’17, who joined the group in the fall.
“You can’t try to change the administration,” she said. “We are trying to get registered for next year because we want to be seen as a legitimate student organization. This is a climate justice movement.”
Climatologist Jeremy Shakun spoke on the uncertainty the planet faces in terms of climate change. At this point, most of the big picture is known, but it’s the small details that will be discovered as climate change progresses, he said.
“We’re only a little way into this global warming story,” he said. “We’re really at a critical point where we can totally change which direction we’re headed. A lot of the uncertainty in climate change is really in the details.
“Climate change has a lot of inertia-once the environment starts to warm up, it is much harder to turn it around,” Shakun said.
“How long does it take to reengineer the entire infrastructure of energy systems on this planet? That’s going to take quite a while,” he said. “This ship is hard to turn around.”
Welton, who took time off from Harvard to focus on divestment, then spoke on the ripple effects divestment can have within the fossil fuel industry. The decisions made in the next few years are the ones that will determine the future of fossil fuels and clean energy, she said.
“This is about our lives here. Ultimately, what climate change will do is it will threaten our water supplies and the regions we rely on for food right now,” Welton said. “If we go about trying to find climate justice solutions we can build ourselves a new world that’s better than the one we have right now.”
Welton’s generation is too young to work their way up to a government decision where it can make policy decisions itself, and individual lifestyle changes are not enough to significantly impact climate change, she stated.
“If BC disappeared off the face of the planet, it wouldn’t emit anything anymore. But, as a planet, we’d still be hurdling off the climate cliff,” she said. “We have to come up with a way to create broader political change.”
The proposed solution would be to create broader political change through divestment. The fossil fuel industry has significant financial clout, but divesting from the industry could create a ripple effect.
“I don’t want to inherit this horror story of climate change,” Welton said. “As the noise of the divestment movement gets really loud, that creates ripples in our political system.”
Divestment probably will not significantly hurt fossil fuel industries from a financial perspective, but it is important to divest from a moral standpoint, said David Zwick, an investment advisor consultant at Progressive Asset Management.
When someone owns stock in a company, he or she owns a part of that company, he said. To ask the University to remove itself from fossil fuel investments is another way of saying that we should not make money from these unsustainable companies, he said.
“Should you be investing in things you don’t believe in? Should you be profiting from things you don’t believe in?” he asked. “It’s not that hard to say, ‘I’m not going to buy stock in these companies.'”