The Boston Herald | Op-ed | May 20, 2014
The divestment movement is coming to a town near you.
No, we’re not talking about apartheid. Or Big Tobacco. Those divestment movements are so, you know, pre-millenial.
Today’s activists are focused not on international human rights violations or even public health issues. They are focused on something much more nefarious: energy. You know, that stuff that powers not only our homes and our cars but also our economy?
This spring, students at Harvard, the University of Masachusetts, and other colleges are attempting to pressure their school endowments to divest of holdings in companies that produce oil, coal, or natural gas. But it is not just students who hae embraced divestment as a tactic for greening the world.
Earlier this month, Town Meetings in Framingham, Sudbury, and Concord passed resolutions to dump stock in fossil fuels, bringing to eight the number of Massachusetts localities that have voted to divest. Amherst, Cambridge, Northampton, Provincetown, and Truro already had divestment policies. (Of course they did).
On Beacon Hill, state Sen. Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield) has proposed legislation requiring the Massachusetts pension fund to divest from fossil fuels and prohibiting further investments in companies that produce them.
The divestment movement’s stated objective is to “loosen the grip of the fossil fuel industry on our democracy so that we can transition away from” such forms of power. Translation: Crush Big Energy.
Never mind whether fossil fuels are sound financial investments. The wealthy, older people who attend Town Meeting and the upper-class college students driving the movement would rather pat themselves on the back for “saving the planet” then let endowment or pension fund managers make decisions in the best interest of beneficiaries.
Now, if you’re an idealistic college student or a crunchy, granola activist from Amherst, punishing energy companies might sound like a groovy idea. But if you are a West Virginia coal miner, a worker on a Texas oil rig, or any of the other millions of people employed by the fossil fuel industry, you’re probably less than enthusiastic about the movement that, if successful, would eliminate your job and cripple the U.S. economy.
Come to think of it, if you’ve come to enjoy any of the creature comforts of the modern workd (heat, refrigeration, transportation), you probably shouldn’t get too fired up about divestment either. Because, like it or not, fossil fuels are responsible for life as we know it. Fossil fuels have given billions of people around the world relatively cheap electricity, and they have enabled the mass production and transport of food and consumer products, creating a global economy that has lifted billions of people out of poverty worldwide.
Of course, some activists naively claim that they hae no desire to put the energy companies out of business, only to shift such companies’ focus from fossil fuels to renewable energy research, even though it is not profitable — or even possile — to shift dramatically to wind, solar, and hydroelectric power, despite the Obama Administration’s massive, taxpayer-unded “green energy” subsidies. (And we all know environmentalists are no friend of nuclear power, the most feasible “clean energy” alernative to fossil fuel.)
Many have questioned divestment as a tactitic. After all,what good will divestment achieve if stocks sold off by anti-energy entitties are immediately scooped up by other investors? The larger question, however, is not whether divestment works, but whether its objectives are worthy.
The use of pension funds and endowment money to score political points is not just unfair to the beneficiaries. It’s downright anti-capitalist.