Do the Right Thing
In the fight against apartheid in South Africa during the 1980s, international divestment and economic embargoes helped to starve that regime of funds and legitimacy. Divestment became a powerful tool in the battle to do what was right.
Divestment can also reduce the legitimacy of the big carbon-polluting corporations. The global campaign to divest from fossil fuel industries has been led by an organization known as "350.org". Founded by Bill McKibben, it derives its name from the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide considered to be safe, 350 ppm.
More recently, The Guardian newspaper has teamed with 350.org to run its own “Keep it in the Ground” campaign -- an effort to advance the divestment initiative.
Divestment can be undertaken at both personal and institutional levels. Massive amounts of money are held in personal bank accounts and retirement funds. In Australia, for example, all of the biggest banks are major investors in coal, oil, and gas projects.
In Australia, banks are being pressured not to invest in a massive coal-mining project that would double Australia’s coal exports. Environmental groups have successfully lobbied 12 major international banks not to fund this project. Recently, Australia’s Commonwealth Bank also withdrew its support -- partly because of environmental pressures and partly because of declining coal prices.
Retirement funds are also invested heavily in fossil fuels. Globally, around 55 percent of retirement funds are invested in fossil fuel projects, while less than two percent is invested in energy efficiency and renewable energy. Some larger funds offer low fossil fuel-investment streams, and some smaller funds do not invest in fossil fuels at all.
Interest in fossil fuel divestment is growing, with more and more institutions pledging either partial or full divestment. These include the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund, the World Council of Churches, the British Medical Association, and the Guardian Media Group. This is just a sampling -- a full list can be seen here.