A case for divestment from fossil fuels


Illustration by Gabrielle Rodriguez

As has become apparent through activism within institutions like universities, religious groups and insurance giants across the world, individuals have pressured their respective institutions to divest entirely from receiving money from income sources that accompany harmful causes. To specify, divestment is the act of ridding one’s university from stocks, bonds or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous.

Recently, the possibly largest of growing divestment campaigns has been centered on divesting institutions from the receipt of income from the fossil fuel industry. Campaigns like Go Fossil Free have organized activists and pressured institutions all over the world into divesting from major fossil fuel companies with the intent of lessening the flow of income that fuels climate change. Divestment from fossil fuels also encourages an end to fossil fuel sponsorships, which help create a “social license to operate” among oil and gas companies. The more money that fossil fuel industries contribute to institutions, the more validity they hold in expanding their operations that said institutions have come to depend on.

For context as to Trinity’s receipt of money from fossil fuel companies, a previous Trinitonian article cites that about $60 million worth of donations from individuals within oil and gas have gone towards the university’s recent developments — most notably, the construction of CSI, called “a building devoted to sustainability” in the article. Currently, Trinity is among many private universities that have yet to divest from receiving money from the fossil fuel industry.

Divestment movements accompany urgent warnings — including that of the United Nations — of worsened drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty brought about as a result of the warming climate. Activists target the fossil fuel industry specifically due to the fact that it is the world’s greatest contributor to the emission of greenhouse gases that warm the climate. In addition, the harmful practices utilized by fossil fuel industries contribute greatly to increased deforestation, emission of harmful air pollutants, chronic health disorders among miners and the permanent altering of prominent ecosystems.

Acclaimed climate scientists have declared that we need to fundamentally transform the ways we consume energy to halt this issue. Reducing the flow of income into the fossil fuel industry will greatly hinder the erection of new infrastructure that they rely on to continue practicing. Once there isn’t a need to continue production among oil and gas companies, we can explore new options. The call for ethical investments, backed by Pope Francis in 2018, as an alternative to fossil fuels will commit institutions to climate solutions that will, in the end, rapidly scale them towards 100 percent renewable energy and universal energy access.

As is common among prominent social movements, there has been opposition to the divestment movement. Perhaps most notably, Bill Gates — prominent billionaire and technology mogul — has spoken out against the divestment movement, asserting that it “probably has reduced about zero [metric tons] of emissions.” As an alternative, he’s pointed towards divesting from “disruptive technologies” and “private sector energy companies” — a move that would place further investment into more self-proclaimed “philanthropic” technological businesses like Microsoft. Gates, now 64 years old, overtakes other billionaires like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg as the world’s richest person with a net worth of about $110 billion. He could give every person in the world $10 dollars and still retain about $30 billion, just for context. For Gates to suggest that investors divert their funds towards his own benefit is selfish and belittling of the hard-working activism surrounding divestment taking place.

However, in the last several years, it has grown more apparent that the divestment movement has taken trillions away from the fossil fuel industry. Shell, a major U.S. oil company, cited divestment as a great material risk to the flow of capital funding their development. According to a report by the Guardian, the funds committed to fossil fuel divestment now total more than $6 trillion with almost 1,000 institutional investors having made the pledge. In addition, figures like Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City, and Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, have argued that prominent economic figures “must use [their] economic might to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy. Taking this kind of action now could help us make a crucial difference to the people we represent and the future of our planet.”

If our university were to divest from investments in the fossil fuel industry and instead direct those funds towards more sustainable options, there would likely be worries as to where scholarship money will then come from. However, many big institutional investors have actually highlighted the financial disincentives for investing in fossil fuel companies. MSCI, the world’s largest stock market index company, found that investors who divest have been consistently outperforming traditional fossil fuel investments since 2010.

This is a move that our futures require. As our natural environment continues to provide our lives with so much, we must pledge to protect it from depleting any further. The change that we have the ability to enact locally will bring about a better world for future Trinity students, the city of San Antonio and hopefully across a more sustainable world.

Joshua Anaya is a member of Trinity’s chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America.