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From Faith to Action: Fossil Fuel Divestment More Vital Than Ever


From Faith to Action: Fossil Fuel Divestment More Vital Than Ever

Bill McKibben

In a world where too many institutions now worship power and wealth, the Church remains a citadel of the word, a place where ideas matter. And words have rarely been used with more power than by Pope Francis in his majestic Laudato Si. I spent several weeks living with it, as I wrote a detailed review for the New York Review of Books, America’s principal journal of letters; but I have a feeling I will be returning to it for the rest of my life.


If the Devil was walking the Earth, he would want to make it as hot as Hell, just for his comfort. I wonder how the 'Orange' one, is hiding his horns?


We are living indeed in a time that holds no future, so to speak, for the younger generations unless a REAL movement can start to lessen the tremendous influence of the energy corporations. If not this planet will be uninhabitable in a few centuries. The time for action was yesterday and must stop the new administration's hell bent for leather disregard of scientific facts. Global warming is real and getting worse every year, so it's up to the youth of today to affect real change. Good luck.


How is selling the stocks in the secondary market going to affect production and consumption of fossil fuels? If the proceeds are invested to provide new capital to renewable energy companies, that will be positive; but just churning existing stocks is not going to have any effect on actual emissions.

Why doesn't Bill McKibben promote ways to reduce demand for fossil fuels?



I think Bill's dream was to organize mass marches to fight climate change. That seems pretty clear from his actions more than a decade ago and his writings. He discovered that you can get a lot more people marching to keep fossil fuels in the ground than by calling for actions that reduce demand. Even though he has been wildly successful in getting the people out there on the streets the results I think have been disappointing. Demonizing the fossil fuel industry just doesn't get it done. But probably there is no real need for Bill on the demand side. There are countless people working on that side and the results are beginning to show. However, we are kind of late to get going and much more is needed to make a real difference and when you look at the global situation the task certainly seems daunting to say the least.


I agree with you. Yes, divest from FF and related if you have investments. But Americans need to start reducing their consumption of fossil fuels and material things dependent on fossil fuels to produce. That would include meat, especially beef.


I have always felt that religion and its concern with stewardship of God's creation was critical to massive behavior change. Since Christianity has a great hook (die and go to heaven if you follow our system) then making fossil fuel use a mortal sin would be a great way to move folks towards renewable energies.


Unfortunately, capitalism has captured most American Christian sects. You've heard of the "gospel of wealth?" Really, capitalism has become the religion.


From “The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements” by Eric Hoffer (1951)

“If free enterprise becomes a proselytizing holy cause, it will be a sign that its workability and advantages have ceased to be self-evident.”


That sort of derivative, speculative economics is a mystery to me, so I hope people will point out where I'm wrong here. The financial exchange "industry" seems based on smoke and mirrors and even the mirrors are only floating mylar... so what happens is based more on belief and expectation (and expectation based on expectation) than physical reality.

But there are a bunch of reasons I think this is a good move.

Divestment results in resale but in the process, as the movement grows larger and larger, the price will be driven down because there will ever-increasingly be more buyers than sellers. As this becomes more true, and the expectation of continuous drops in price becomes built in, then even those who aren't part of the movement because they know it's in the interest of all of us, will join it because they know it's in their own short-term financial interest.

Much of the so-called wealth that's tied up in fossil fuel stocks is held by officers of those corporations. As divestment reduces the worth of those stocks it reduces their fortunes, and somewhat, takes money from those who have shown they use it for the most destructive purposes. Right now unfortunately that doesn't mean it's going to those it should, or who will use it for creative positive projects, but it's a start.

I don't know if this is true about the ff industry but it seems that when corporations want to expand, etc. they do it by issuing new stock. If that stock is devalued by the falling price caused by divestment and its ripples then it reduces the ability of the ff industry to start new projects. Yes, they have trillions, so they're not going to be begging on street corners any time soon for that capital. But coal corporations in particular are going belly up all the time now and as the movement continues, and if it's supported by government action especially, we will eventually come to a point where it matters. (No, government is not going to do that right now. But eventually it will, assuming we don't have a permanent dictatorship in the US (if we do it doesn't matter what we do anyway). And keeping the momentum going in the meantime will have both real and symbolic effects now and will set up the possibility for moving ahead rapidly when we have a sane, responsive government.

Further, stock buybacks by the corporation and officers, and other uses (remember that smoke and mirror thing--I assume this is where 'other uses' would come in) of already-issued stocks would be limited by the expectation of further price drops. For all such purposes I believe it's not nearly as relevant what the stock is worth as which way the price is expected to go that matters.

As the price falls there's less total money in ff stocks. Less money in ff stocks means more money to invest in one of the fastest growing investments in the market--renewable energy. More operating capital, rising stock prices... the opposite of the ff situation.

I'm betting there are other reasons like this.