Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Warming Wednesdays: Boycott and divestment?

A couple of weeks ago, the archbishop emeritus of Cape Town. South Africa, Desmond Tutu, wrote in the Guardian in full support of boycotts of the monster companies that are belching the most carbon dioxide into the atmosphere:

Who can stop it? Well, we can, you and I. And it is not just that we can stop it, we have a responsibility to do so. It is a responsibility that begins with God commanding the first human inhabitants of the garden of Eden "to till it and keep it". To keep it; not to abuse it, not to destroy it.

The taste of "success" in our world gone mad is measured in dollars and francs and rupees and yen. Our desire to consume any and everything of perceivable value – to extract every precious stone, every ounce of metal, every drop of oil, every tuna in the ocean, every rhinoceros in the bush – knows no bounds. We live in a world dominated by greed. We have allowed the interests of capital to outweigh the interests of human beings and our Earth. ...

It is clear that those countries and companies primarily responsible for emitting carbon and accelerating climate change are not simply going to give up; they stand to make too much money. They need a whole lot of gentle persuasion from the likes of us. ...

Tutu proposes boycotts and divestment from the fossil fuel giants.

I'm of many minds about boycotts. In the 1970s I worked as an organizer on the United Farm Workers Union boycotts of table grapes and some wines. These efforts were considered effective; they also took years of extremely dedicated work by ever growing armies of volunteers and consumers. And it is not even clear that the economic effect on the growers was what gave the workers a chance at a union. We succeeded in "giving a bad name" to a whole class of fruit; perhaps the growers, rightly, feared the long term effect of people learning to pass up grapes; certainly millions of folks stopped buying grapes for many years.

Tutu credits boycotts of South Africa with helping to bring down apartheid. Contemporary pro-Palestinian activists urge us to boycott, divest and sanction Israel over its dispossession of the native people of that land. In both those instances, the effect is probably not so much economic as on reputation. A growing boycott lets an offending state know it has crossed boundaries of what the world community thinks of as decent behavior. Such boycotts routinely evoke defiant objections from their targets, but they also seem to sting in some way that goes beyond their material effects.

Boycott and divestment from climate polluters is a tough project, one that starts with defining the appropriate targets. After all, we mostly all like living in a civilization that runs on abundant electricity and easy transport. But which companies are profiting without trying to adapt so as not to sink their own boat? The Institute for Southern Studies produced some lists. I'll just reproduce some of the publicly owned offenders in the United States:
  • Chevron, San Ramon, Calif. (investor-owned)
  • ExxonMobil, Irving, Texas.
  • ConocoPhillips, Houston, Texas.
  • American Electric Power, Columbus, Ohio
  • Duke Energy, Charlotte, N.C.
  • Berkshire Hathaway, Omaha, Neb.
  • Ameren Corp., St. Louis, MO
and then
  • there's the real monster among dirty energy energy purveyors: the U.S. Government.
We may not be able to divest from the Feds (or even want to) but we sure can see one entity that citizens ought to be targeting here.

More from Tutu:

Tutu says an apartheid-style boycott would be a way to curb polluters' stranglehold over energy policy. "We cannot necessarily bankrupt the fossil fuel industry," he wrote. "But we can take steps to reduce its political clout, and hold those who rake in the profits accountable for cleaning up the mess."

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