I forget where, but I saw the funniest argument online the other day: The anti-apartheid divestment movement failed because it never significantly impacted the target companies' balance sheet. This, of course, ignores the fact that impacting balance sheets was never the end goal. Ending apartheid was.
Those of us who are fervently wishing for a transition from fossil fuels should take heart from news, reported over at 350 Massachusetts, that three towns—Framingham, Concord and Sudbury—have voted to divest from fossil fuels. While critics will once again pipe up with their usual refrain that this will have no financial impact, they should note that the activists themselves are claiming no such goals:
“Divestment is a proven strategy that has been used effectively to solve large-scale problems when other solutions were being blocked”, said Bob Lawson, who presented the resolution in Concord, “ Vested interests are blocking climate solutions. This is not about starving the fossil fuel companies of funds; this is about mobilizing the grassroots to counter their political power.”
Still, as I argued in my piece about NPR's laughably one-sided take on the Stanford divestment, and again regarding news that Dunedin, New Zealand, was divesting too, there may actually come a time when divestment does start to impact the bottom line.
Sure, it probably won't come from ethically-driven divestment alone. But with Deutsche Bank recently announcing it would not finance a controversial coal port expansion near the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and the Wall Street Journal noting the expected massive write-down of California's Monterey Shale reserves, it's clear that every new fossil fuel project will need to make the case for why it's a sound, long-term investment.
As alternatives become more competitive, and as the prospect of significant climate legislation eventually becomes inevitable, fossil fuel companies should not take access to cheap capital for granted.
Apartheid didn't end because people divested from and boycotted Barclays Bank. But Barclays did eventually divest from apartheid. And apartheid did eventually end.
Make of that what you will.