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The Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement is Growing

By Janet Lawson

Oh climate change! It’s the elephant in the room. Everyone knows that it’s happening (or else is harboring a growing doubt that the ‘world’s greatest hoax’ might not be a hoax after all) but it’s just so darn BIG. Better just ignore it.

Helping us to pull our heads out of the sand on climate change is what the fossil fuel divestment movement is all about. Divestment has been gathering momentum around the world and serving its purpose of keeping climate change on the front burner of public awareness. So its great news to hear from The Guardian on September 22 that over 2000 individuals and 400 institutions have now pledged to divest a huge $2.6 trillion in assets. And it’s even more amazing when you remember that this movement began only three years ago with just tiny Unity College in Maine.

That’s worldwide of course, but closer to home there’s plenty going on. At Tufts and Harvard last spring student activists had sit-ins and blockades for divestment, while at MIT a climate change committee recommended targeted divestment from coal and tar sands companies. During town meeting season, petitioners in Lexington and Great Barrington successfully passed resolutions that added their names to the now ten Massachusetts towns (including Concord!) that have endorsed fossil fuel divestment.

Finally, just this June right here in Concord, First Parish voted unanimously for fossil fuel divestment after a year of thoughtful study and discussion. Hats off to our UU friends for taking climate change and its implications seriously, for discussing the role of investments in shaping the future, and for continuing to lead the town in green initiatives.

There are some who criticize divestment as merely symbolic since investments sold are always picked up by a buyer. But this symbolic act has enormous power. It’s a way for communities large and small to engage in a conversation about climate change and to make a commitment to the kind of future we want to build.

Investments create the future. We may be stuck using fossil fuels here in the present. But we don’t need to invest in them for our future. Breaking ties at the investment level might actually be the best way to start unraveling the Gordian knot of fossil fuel dependence in which we are trapped.

Climate change is an unprecedented problem but it’s not insolvable. We’ve done the unprecedented before. Remember WWII? Remember the moon shot? Back in the 1960’s the Apollo initiative was a huge national effort that cost about $230 billion in today’s dollars. According to a group called the Global Apollo Programme, if we were to invest that amount right now we could transition the entire world to 100% renewable electricity by 2025. In other words, it would only take a decade and it would be super cheap.

So why are we flirting with rising seas, heat waves, fires, floods and droughts? It’s the fossil fuel lobby lulling us with “it can’t be done” - exactly what the divestment movement is meant to address. Every time a community begins a conversation about divestment it pulls back the curtain on vested interests and pulls our heads out of the sands of inertia.

Divestment helps us to set the goalposts and points us in the right direction. It’s not the last step that needs to be taken to solve our climate problem, but it’s a great first step.

If you’re interested in joining a divestment campaign, 350Massachusetts (350ma.org) is working to make Massachusetts the first state to divest.

Janet Lawson is Concord resident, and a member of TriCon Church, the ConcordCAN! Steering Group and 350Mass Metrowest.

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