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Fossil Fuel Divestment Is Not Hypocritical

By Bob Lawson

Whenever I participate in a climate rally, there are invariably passer-byes on street calling out, “How did you get here? Drive?” Similarly, as co-petitioner, with my wife Janet, of town meeting’s Divestment Article 40, I often get asked, wouldn’t it hypocritical to vote for divestment from fossil fuels when we drive cars and heat our homes with oil and gas? Fair enough question. But cutting back on our individual carbon consumption, while important isn’t going to win the war. Climate change is a systemic problem and to solve it we need a systemic solution. We’re not going to succeed by appealing to each individual’s sense of responsibility and waiting for seven billion people to ‘just say no’. Until we alter the incentives and set a price on carbon that reflects its true cost, we aren’t going to stop global warming. And we won’t have the will to enact these policies as long as our treasure is invested in the success of fossil fuels.

The carbon-based world we live in came about innocently enough; no evil plots, no evil intentions. Instead a “magic elixir” in a jar that could do the work of hundreds o men. Fine, but that’s so 19th century. Here in the 21st century the clear scientific consensus is that human’s burning of fossil fuels will soon alter our world in a way that civilization won’t even recognize. It is clearly time to reset. And yet the vested interests (fossil fuel companies) have no intension of a reset. The money is too good to worry about the fate of the world. And, shamefully, they have used their tremendous financial resources on lobbying and PR campaigns to cast doubt on the science, confuse the public and block political action. They have largely succeeded. It is time for people with a sense of integrity to fight back. Since Washington is paralyzed, this transition movement has to start with the grass roots. The first step is to revoke the social license and the political clout of the fossil fuel industry, which is what divestment will achieve. Cities as large as Seattle, San Francisco and Providence have already done so. Concord has never had a history of lagging behind.

Hypocritical? Let me ask you this: is it hypocritical to be aware of the severity of climate change, and yet invest in the success of fossil fuels? (Answer: If it is wrong to wreck the planet, it is wrong to try to profit form that wreckage.)

People and institutions are understandably concerned about what will happen to their investment portfolios if fossil fuel holdings are discarded. Opponents of divestment argue that fossil fuels have, historically, been big winners for investors. The thought of making such a big winner taboo can be unsettling, or even frightening, for people who depend on their investment portfolios for financial security. Nowadays, though, financial managers and advisors are being asked to consider, if they are in touch with the reality of climate change, the probability that the seemingly limitless profits of the fossil fuel industry are not so unlimited after all, and that the value of portfolios loaded with fossil fuel stocks will very likely plunge through the floor in the near future because fossil fuel use seriously jeopardizes the survival of life as we know it. If that proves true, clinging to history may prove both financially and environmentally disastrous..

Bob Lawson is a co-petitioner of Article 40 at the upcoming Town Meeting, and a member of ConcordCAN