Op-Ed, Opinion

OP-ED: The moral argument for BU to divest its fossil fuel holdings

Op-Eds do not reflect the editorial opinion of The Daily Free Press. They are solely the opinion of the author.

Boston University’s Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing recently announced that it was recommending divestment of BU’s fossil fuel holdings to the Board of Trustees. Now, the Board must take the only prudent, principled and responsible step: divest.

The strongest argument for divestment is a moral one. How can we continue to derive wealth from an industry that has been so selfishly focused on its own profits that it has intentionally orchestrated a disinformation campaign (summarized below) to deny the climate crisis? A campaign that — if ultimately successful, and it has been so far — would destroy the planet as we know it.

ExxonMobil, the largest fossil fuel company, is currently under criminal investigation by the attorneys general of 16 states, about which Massachusetts’ Attorney General Maura Healey stated, “Fossil fuel companies that deceived investors and consumers about the dangers of climate change must be held accountable.”

Here is why she said that.

Recently unearthed documents show that Exxon’s own scientists were internally warning company officials as early as 1981 about the threat of climate change. In a shocking display of duplicity in the 1990s, Exxon scientists warned the company to prepare for the reality of climate change by reinforcing oil rigs in the oceans and pipelines on land, while publicly, Exxon continued to block efforts to deny and combat the growing climate crisis. Though exact numbers are uncertain, the fossil fuel industry has been spending tens of millions of dollars per year to support: think tanks that disseminate climate denialist propaganda, contrarian scientists who obfuscate the truth about the climate crisis and politicians who have blocked all efforts to adequately address the climate crisis in the United States. Recently, Sociologist Justin Ferrell analyzed more than 40,000 documents generated by the fossil fuel industry and their proxies between 1993-2013. He concluded that the current ideologically polarized view of climate change in the United States is principally due to the fossil fuel industry’s contrarian campaign.

How has the fossil fuel industry responded to these revelations? Has it shown any evidence of contrition? Has it vowed — in the interest of the survival of the planet — to stop its contrarian campaign? Has it admitted its complicity? Has it changed its business model now that climate scientists have revealed that 80 percent of proven fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground? No. In fact, it continues, unabated, to explore for more reserves, spending more than $500 billion per year, an effort which continues to be subsidized by G20 countries to the tune of almost $100 billion per year.

Why has the fossil fuel industry waged its contrarian campaign? The answer is obvious: to ensure short-term profits. Is it winning its campaign? Yes. While 97 percent of climate scientists agree that we have a serious — likely existential — climate crisis, less than 50 percent of the U.S. Congress agrees. In fact, the United States is the only country in the world with an entire major party that denies the reality that climate change exists and is caused by humans burning fossil fuels.

But what are they winning? If the fossil fuel industry succeeds, climate scientists tell us in no uncertain terms that the planet (as we know it) will be destroyed. How seriously? Here is but one example. If nothing is done to curtail fossil fuel burning, many coastal cities will end up significantly underwater. Fortunately, some cities can be saved if serious steps are taken to stop fossil fuel burning (e.g., Boston and New York City), though, regrettably, for others it’s already too late (e.g., Miami, Charleston and Cambridge).

How can Boston University possibly continue to use its endowment to support and, in the process, derive financial benefit from the fossil fuel industry given its selfish, shortsighted drive for profits, its commitment to a disinformation campaign that — if successful — threatens to destroy life as we know it and its ongoing commitment to a business model that promotes the burning of fossil fuels beyond what climate scientists tell us the planet can sustain?

For these reasons, Boston University’s Board of Trustees is urged to divest BU’s fossil fuel holdings. It would be unconscionable to do otherwise.

Dr. Edward Loechler, Member, DivestBU Faculty Group, loechler@bu.edu

One Comment

  1. Divest now! Wine turbines! Solar power! Thorium power! Grid scale batteries!

    With the Tesla Model 3 on the way, electric cars for the masses are close! Shut down all coal plants and oil rigs, and replace them with solar panel factories with trade protectionism so China does not drive out of business!