Will Fossil Fuel Divestment Be a Key Tactic in 2013 Battle over Climate Change?
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NERMEEN SHAIKH: On a recent edition of Fox’s Red Eye, a four-person panel slammed college students for organizing a fossil fuel divestment campaign. This is the host of the panel, Andy Levy, who begins by speaking to Ambassador John Bolton and then moves on to Fox News reporter Sandra Smith.
ANDY LEVY: Sandra, you agree that colleges need to run their endowments like a business to maximize their return, so morality should play absolutely no part in this.
SANDRA SMITH: Oh, well, I mean, nobody is saying it’s immoral to invest in a clean coal company, clean burning coal company, or a domestic energy company, you know.
ANDY LEVY: Right.
SANDRA SMITH: I mean, to just attack all of these companies without any research, that it appears they didn’t do much of, then that is immature and irresponsible. I’ll stick by that.
ANDY LEVY: All right. So, no climate change whatsoever as far as you’re concerned.
SANDRA SMITH: There is not—still to this day, there is not a consensus among scientists.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Fox News reporter Sandra Smith speaking to host Andy Levy. Ambassador John Bolton was not included in that clip. Christian Parenti, can you respond to what was said on Fox News?
CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Well, yeah. I mean, I—you know, that’s just Fox News obviously defending the fossil fuel industry. You know, my concern is about divestment. And to repeat, I think it’s great that there’s mobilization. I just think we’ve got to be realistic about what’s going on. And, you know, one of the problems with this idea of stripping the social license to operate from fossil fuel companies is that it plays into a sort of, you know, a media-oriented strategy that may not be that effective. If you think that the fossil fuel industry, oil industry—the oil industry is the least liked industry in the U.S. Every year Gallup does a poll, and oil is at the bottom. So, they don’t really have a social license to operate, and it doesn’t seem to affect them. So we have to think about how to mobilize—how to leverage this mobilization into ways that are actually going to hurt the fossil fuel industry.
And I think, ultimately, in the long term, we have to have a conversation about government, and not just about what’s wrong with it and how it’s broken, but what it can do and what it does do. And we have—the EPA has, you know, the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, under EPA v. Massachusetts, and there is—if there is enough pressure, there is legal space to really start imposing a de factocarbon tax on the economy by making it expensive to pollute. The other tool that is here already is that government spends an enormous amount of money on energy. It has enormous fleet of vehicles, enormous fleet of buildings. And this doesn’t require going to the Republicans to ask them to pony up more money for renewable energy. If the government uses its power of purchasing to pursue a big green buy, clean purchasing, that will help jump-start a clean energy sector. And that’s something that universities can do, as well. I mean, I was looking at Harvard’s green plan. You know, they don’t own any electric vehicles yet. I mean, OK, Harvard doesn’t own that many vehicles, but that might be a place to pressure, as well.
But I think, ultimately, down the line, we have to be very realistic about, like, the fact that the way the fossil fuel industries are going to be checked is with state power. And I commend Bill McKibben and everyone in 350 for this effort, but I don’t—I’m not sure any of us are clear on how to actually get this to turn into legal power to check these firms, because it’s not going to be moral suasion alone. They’re not going to back off of this incredibly profitable industry because people don’t like them, because people already hate them.