Why Divestment Works

Why Divestment Works by Nate Osborne

If you ever find yourself in a debate with Matt Alonsozana and Alex Tingle, I would think twice before signing up. The poll taken before and after the debate showed that more people were against divestment after the debate than when they walked in. You could call that a loss for divestment, but that’s not how I see it.

How I see it, UGBC and BC Fossil Free have opened up the conversation on divestment across campus. The news is spreading rapidly about the threat of climate change and the overwhelming political power of the fossil fuel companies. The necessity for action is becoming evermore clear, and that is nothing less than a success. The only uncertainty lies in the tactic for making this change.

So then what about divestment? Erin Sutton and TJ Buckley did a great job defending the case for divestment, but up against Matt and Alex some people seemed to doubt that the case for divestment is as strong as we believe it is.

I am one of many people who disagree with Matt and Alex and believe that divestment is in fact an effective and powerful tactic in enacting the change that this world needs for the sake of political, economic, environmental, social, and climate justice. The rest of this article will be an attempt to clarify and further explain three points that I saw people in the audience express the most doubt about:

1.) Divestment is an ineffective political tool.

2.) BC’s divestment will have no effect.

3.) Divestment is a destructive tactic and our situation requires a constructive one.

What I say below is in no way the final position or comment of BC Fossil Free. We hope that this can be part of an ongoing conversation driven by a thirst for justice and care for the well being of humanity.

Divestment is an effective, constructive political tool and the change must start with BC:

 

         Yes, divestment is a political, NOT financial tactic. It would be both impossible and ineffective to financially harm the fossil fuel industry from university divestment. The theory behind divestment as a strategy is that the political system is influenced by social values, where the values and demands of communities dictate the policy that is pushed in Washington. In this way, divestment can be paralleled with the Civil Rights Movement, as this movement called on religious and moral truth to change social values and demanded racial equality and justice. Because of the success of this movement, politicians no longer are elected on the platform of re-segregating bathrooms, nor would they ever support policy that may label them as racists. So while the divestment movement is different from the civil rights movement in tactics, it is comparable in its function as a social tool to enact lasting political change.

How does changing social values and mobilizing social action incite change at a political level? Well as corrupt as the political system is, it does listen to the people. Congress in particular is set up structurally so that senators and representatives need the support of the public in order to gain and retain office. When members of Congress are in session in Washington, they are looking to put their name on legislation that is favored by their constituents. When those members travel back to their constituency, they make sure everyone knows about that policy and who to thank for it. Congressmen need votes to survive, and position taking on policy that their constituents demand is one of the main ways of getting them.

The problem we face today – the reason widespread political action is not yet being taken to confront climate change – is that not enough constituents are demanding climate justice. As of now, the fossil fuel industry has the hold over politicians. Favoring the fossil fuel industry is a win-win situation for them: they get tons of campaign donations and lose no votes in their constituency for doing so. In fact, in light of the large percentage of Americans who believe the natural gas industry will bring about national energy independence, breaking up with fossil fuel companies may actually harm politicians. Thus, as of now there is little incentive for Congressmen to refuse campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry and run on a climate justice platform for carbon taxes and increased renewable energy infrastructure projects. But if climate change awareness grows at the social level and the percentage of constituents demanding climate justice increases, then politicians will have the incentive to push for climate reform policy. And if politicians can win elections by supporting climate change, then the climate justice movement will gain the political power needed for structural change.

Divestment is a tool that can build the social power necessary to incentivize politicians to take action against climate change. Similar to the Civil Rights Movement in function, the divestment movement changes social values by educating the public on the dire threat of climate change and mobilizing them to demand climate justice from politicians. Like every movement, it must start locally and spread nationally. The starting point of the divestment movement is university campuses. In less than a handful of years, roughly 400 divestment groups have emerged on college campuses. Universities are starting to get the idea that this movement has strong roots and a necessary purpose, as nine colleges and universities have committed to divestment, seven of those being since 2013. As it has grown, the fight has expanded to religious institutions, cities, counties, and institutions ready and willing to divest. People of all wakes of life are getting behind this movement, even politicians. In 2014, it is becoming commonplace for state legislators to entertain the idea of divestment and even openly support divestment, including Massachusetts’ own Treasurer Steven Grossman. In response to the recent social mobilization for climate justice, it is becoming increasingly difficult for politicians to ignore climate change. The evidence is clear, the consequences of inaction are scary, and the increasing strength and favor of the divestment movement is pressing forward the social value and political priority of climate justice. How significant the change is will depend on how much we care and how loud we get.

But political power is only half the battle; what about the technology and infrastructure changes themselves? How much is this going to cost, and what sacrifices will we have to make? I believe that as the social and political support for climate change increases, so will the profitability, size, and political power of the renewable energy industry, as well as an increase in efficiency, access and cheapness of renewable technology (granted, I am assuming that cheaper and more efficient renewable energy sources are a possibility). Here is why: As the social and political support for renewable energy increases, so will the demand for renewable energy. In addition, as climate change consequences worsen and cause costly damage, the necessity for renewable energy will be clearer and more pressing. When the demand and need for a technology increases, so does the opportunity for growth and profit. Investors will see renewable energy with lower risks and higher promises of return, making it an increasingly desirable investment. With more investors, the investments into research and development will increase. In addition, the industry itself will grow as it becomes an attractive investment and more people enter the market in order to compete for the rising demand. Lastly, as the renewable energy grows, so does its lobbying power. Between the voice of the constituency and the increased ability for the renewable energy industry to support politicians, the likelihood of carbon taxes increases substantially. And with carbon taxes, fossil fuels become more expensive and less appealing. Thus, by building the divestment movement at a social level, the political power of the fossil fuel industry will decrease and be replaced by a growing renewable energy industry that has the technological capacity to replace fossil fuels and political support to implement renewable energy structures. Moreover, the renewable energy industry needs our collective voices and support in order to become what the world needs it to be.

A TRULY ALTERNATIVE SPRING BREAK, Ellie Tedeschi

Sixteen Boston College students and alumni attended a divestment convergence hosted in Washington, D.C. over spring break, joining thousands of other college students representing over 100 university divestment campaigns. The event, named XL Dissent, took place over two days and culminated in a youth-organized protest of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Friday February 28

9:45 pm

The group is off to a fantastic start; everyone has packed way too much stuff for the weekend (except for the girls, surprisingly). We haven’t even left Boston yet and we’re already having a blast.

Saturday March 1

3:00 am

The Boston area alone was able to completely fill 2 busses of students. This bus is packed. Candy. Pillows. Drool. I think my legs fell off.

2:00 pm

At the Thurgood Marshall Center in Washington DC leaders of college divestment organizations got together for a strategy session. Students broke up into smaller breakout groups to listen to speakers, brainstorm organizing strategies, and network with other youth leaders. The turnout was twice as large as expected, signifying how fast the national divestment movement is growing in over 300 universities, cities and religions institutions.

There is so much power in the room, so much passion for one cause. It is inspiring and energizing. I’m thinking I should try dreadlocks… they seem to be the new style.

6:00 pm

500 people attempt to cram into the Thurgood Marshall Center gym. The event will be huge! DC Action Lab arrives and explains the exact plan for the protest tomorrow. Everyone in the room is getting really pumped up and we are confident that our voices will be heard.

Side note: The meat line will always be MUCH shorter than the vegan line at an environmental convergence.

11:00 pm

U Street is awesome, so much to do and see. BCFF is the coolest club on campus with the coolest people and you should join!

Sunday March 2

6:00 am

It is way too early for folk songs but then again it’s too early to be awake in general. About 300 people managed to cram themselves onto St. Stephen’s church floor and everyone wakes up with a ton of energy, ready to get our protest on!

10:00 am

The protest begins at Georgetown’s red square. 1,200 students are holding signs, cheering and signing. Hazmat suits and ties are the preferred outfit of the day! This is our future and we will fight for it. We have a voice, it is loud and it is powerful! We march the three miles from Georgetown to the white house. People line the streets to watch and cheer us on!

“Power, power, power, power. Power to the people”

“1700 miles of pipe, 1700 miles we’ll fight”

It’s a perfect day and I am surrounded by perfect people. 1100 perfect people who are working together to make an incredible difference.

“1 we are the people. 2 we are united. 3 we will not let you build this pipeline”

12:15 pm

When we arrive at the White House we listen to a series of incredible speakers from leading universities and frontline communities whose tribes and livelihoods will be directly impacted by the KXL pipeline. Xiuhtezcatl Martinez a thirteen-year-old youth representative from Earth Guardians reminded the crowds that this is our future that we are being forced to fight for. Jasmin Thomas from a tribe in Canada spoke of the imminent destruction of sacred Native American land by tar sands extraction.

It was clear that we needed to remind Obama why we, the youth, voted him into power. We believed that he would fight for our futures, rather than give up on us and into big oil companies. We needed to remind him of the promises he had made to us in the past.

1:00 pm

Over a thousand amazing students make their way to the white house fence. 398 of them enter the arrest-able zone and tie themselves to the white house fence or die in the symbolic oil spill. 6 of your fellow BC students were among those to be arrested for civil disobedience.  They were incredibly brave and stoic and have earned tremendous respect.

When the cops arise to fence off the area they are extremely calm and friendly, joking with the protestors and showing their support of the peaceful student demonstration. When they finally announce that they are going to begin the arrests, the whole crowd cheers.

Somewhere, someone in the crowd screams “I love you” and the chant continues as the first protesters are arrested and loaded onto transport vehicles. Not even the cops and tourists can help but be moved by the passionate crowd. The arrests continue until well past 5 pm and the crowds remain to support their friends, peers and heroes.

Monday March 2

4:45 am

We spill out of the busses onto the quiet Boston sidewalks. We are delirious but freshly energized. Still on the high that comes with acting on something you believe in and realizing that your voice does have power, we make our way back to campus. Quiet and reflective it is clear that this weekend in DC was the experience of a lifetime.

We are ready to come back to Boston College with a fresh outlook and new ideas. We have seen what our generation can do when we put our minds to it and we have nothing but the highest of hopes for the BC community.

While climate change does pose a daunting challenge for our futures, it also offers an incredible opportunity for leadership and innovation.

WE ARE YOUNG, WE ARE POWERFUL AND WE WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

16 BC STUDENTS ATTEND DIVESTMENT CONVERGENCE IN WASHINGTON, D.C. OVER SPRING BREAK

Sixteen Boston College students and alumni attended a divestment convergence hosted in Washington, D.C. over spring break, joining thousands of other college students representing over 100 university divestment campaigns. The event, named XL Dissent, took place over two days and culminated in a youth-organized protest of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would transport tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to Port Arthur Texas, crossing over farmlands and the enormous Ogallala Aquifer.

The Divestment Convergence brought leaders of college divestment organizations together for a strategy session, in which students broke up into smaller breakout groups to listen to speakers, brainstorm organizing strategies, and network with other youth leaders. The large turnout signifies the growing national divestment movement, with campaigns underway at over 300 universities as well as cities and religions institutions.

Students met for a morning rally at Georgetown University on the second day before beginning their march to the White House. BC students held a sign reading, “Boston College says no KXL,” marching and chanting in unison with 1,200 others. Upon arriving at the White House, several indigenous environmental leaders shared stories before 372 students engaged in civil disobedience to ensure that the students’ opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline is heard. Six members of BC Fossil Free were arrested; a powerful start to their spring break.

Boston universities had an enormous presence at XL Dissent, sending three packed buses to Washington, D.C. for the Divestment Convergence and protest. After spring break, BC Fossil Free members intend to ramp up their campaign using the energy, enthusiasm, and organizing skills they gained from the event.

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Boston College Fossil Free (BCFF) is a group of undergraduates, graduates, alumni, faculty and staff fighting the climate crisis by encouraging Boston College to immediately halt new investments in fossil fuel companies and completely divest from fossil fuel interests within five years. We work in solidarity with student groups in over 300 campuses across the United States.

Students Walkout of Class to Demand More Action on Climate Change

Boston, MA– After roughly two hundred students from across Massachusetts walked out of classes today to call for strong action on climate change, Governor Deval Patrick agreed to meet with activists to discuss a ban on the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure.

“As a young person, I have an obligation to fight for a livable future, and right now, that means drawing a hard line in the sand against new fossil fuel infrastructure and committing to clean energy solutions,” said Martin Hamilton, a student at Brandeis University. “That’s why I walked out of classes today.”

The walkout, organized by Students for a Just and Stable Future, featured speeches from Newton North High School junior Kerry Brock, Wellesley College sophomore Ashley K Funk, and climate activist Tim DeChristopher.

The walkout came after months of campaigning by the grassroots organization Better Future Project and its volunteer-led climate action network 350 Massachusetts. Since summer 2013, activists have been calling on Governor Deval Patrick to “build only the best” by banning the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure and meeting all new energy demand through renewables and energy efficiency, using his authority under the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act.

 After rallying outside the Statehouse, the group of students waited outside as a smaller delegation of students entered the State House to request a meeting. They returned shortly with news that they had succeeded in securing an agreement to discuss the proposed ban with the Governor himself.

“Governor Patrick’s response to our walkout today only reaffirmed my conviction that he is the sort of moral leader we need to confront the climate crisis,” said Alli Welton, an undergraduate at Harvard College. “He has already been an outstanding champion of clean energy and climate action, and this ban would be the logical next step for his climate legacy.”

 Students who walked out of classes said that they were excited for the opportunity to meet with the Governor, and had high expectations for the meeting.

“It’s a matter of common sense. Our generation understands that now is the time to stop pouring resources into new fossil fuel infrastructure that would lock us into decades of dangerous emissions and instead to start investing in a real transition to viable energy alternatives. Governor Patrick’s demonstrated foresight and leadership on climate make me believe he can take these bold actions and be our generation’s climate hero.” Henry Jacqz, a student at Tufts University.

Students gather to demand a meeting with Governor Deval Patrick.

Young people standing up for our future at KXL Dissent

What: KXL Dissent: Student Organized Action in Washington DC
When: March 1-2
Where: The White House
Why: There is an urgency for action to stop climate change, and students around the country are organizing to tell Obama to take a stand on climate justice. The infrastructure we’re building right now, like the KXL pipeline, is determining the fate of our planet. We refuse to sit back idly while our elected representatives lock us into a dismal future, so we’re locking ourselves to the White House to send a symbolic message to Obama and the nation. There are will be students from well over 75 schools across the country. From BC, we have 11 confirmed! From other schools there are 800+ students attending and 300+ planning to risk arrest, and we expect those numbers to continue to rise.  Being a part of this event is monumental. It’s the kind of thing that when folks ask what you did stop the incredible injustice that is the climate crisis, you’ll say, “I went down to DC and locked myself to the White House!”

How: Sign up for the action here. And the buses from Boston here. We will be leaving on Friday, 2/28 at 11PM for the overnight ride to DC. We will be returning after the action on Sunday, 3/2 for the overnight trip back home, and will arrive at dusk on Monday morning.

For those who can’t make it: If you would like to help get more people to DC, go here, where you can donate to the buses from Boston. To support the action in general, go here. To contribute directly to BCFF, you’ll have to give cash to a BCFF person or you can make a check payable to bobby wengronowitz, who will make sure the BC crew puts it to good use. We already have 11 BC folks signed up!  You can mail to:

BCFF HQ, c/o bobby wengronowitz

410A McGuinn Hall
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467

BC students march against new natural gas plant in Salem

On Saturday February 8 five students from Boston College joined 370 other concerned citizens from across New England for a march in Salem MA. The march was in protest against a natural gas plant that is proposed to replace the Salem coal plant that is currently being decommissioned. There were great speakers, fantastic live music throughout the march, and a warm reception with a live band at a local hotel, the Hawthorne Hotel.

Click here to read more!

This protest is just the beginning of the fight to stop the construction of a natural gas plant in Salem. It is meant as an improvement because it is replacing an existing (but very old and ready to retire) coal fired power plant. However, if constructed the new plant will lock us into carbon emissions for decades to come (as it would have a several decade life expectancy). Construction may start as soon as this summer, so we will need to fight hard. If successful though, this could be the first power plant in history to not be built with climate change as the predominant reason (past plans for plants have been scrapped because of various forms of air pollution, but not due to CO2 emissions).

Read more about the scientific and financial arguments: Union of Concerned Scientists article, think progress.org article.

See the action in the news! The Salem News, Boston.com

Get involved, join the Legacy Campaign to stop the building of new fossil fuel infrastructure in MA.

Climate-Risks-of-Natural-Gas-Full-Infographic_Full-Size

Meeting with Fr Leahy about Divesting BC Endowment

On Thursday February 6 Father Leahy (president of BC) met with Bobby Wengronowitz (Sociology PhD student) and Sissi Liu (BC Freshman) from BC Fossil Free. Outside of the meeting 14 undergrads, grads, and alumni held a peaceful vigil to demonstrate how important this issue is to them, and to stress the urgency that we take decisive action to stop emitting carbon dioxide as soon as possible.

The meeting went well, both sides developing a deeper understanding of the issue. Keep eye’s posted here and in the BC newspapers for further details on the development of the Divestment Campaign at BC!

Ready to meet with Fr Leahy!
Ready to meet with Fr Leahy!