Does Divestment Matter?

Ben Geman, of the National Journal: “Fifty philanthropies are going public with plans to dump their shares in petroleum and coal companies, pledges that arrive shortly before Tuesday’s big United Nations climate-change summit in New York.”

“Advocates say pledges from foundations that jointly control several billion dollars in assets, including the $860 million Rockefeller Brothers Fund, show momentum for the fossil-fuel divestment movement.”

“According to the report from the umbrella Divest-Invest coalition, 180 institutions and local governments and 654 individuals representing $50 billion in assets have made divestment pledges as of mid-September.”

“Advocates say divestment can be an important tool against climate change, arguing that beyond the financial effect, it can sap the political influence of the industry by building a movement that openly declares the holdings in carbon-heavy industries unacceptable … They also want to make investments in oil and coal companies risky.”

“But while the scale of divestment commitments is growing, it’s still small in comparison with the scope of the fossil-fuel industry.”

Matthew Yglesias acknowledges that “divestment is really just a symbolic act of disapproval. But symbolic acts of disapproval matter.”

“A world in which it was universally accepted in polite society that fossil fuel companies are problematic and respectable people should avoid dealing with them would be a very different world from the one we live in.”

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