Saturday, March 9, 2013

The inverted terminology of investment and divestment

Many university administrations argue that fossil fuel investment is needed to sustain society's energy needs. This misses the key function of investment, which is to PROMOTE, not merely sustain. Investment promotes the active GROWTH of enterprises, not just their maintenance. The enormous profits and tax breaks enjoyed by fossil fuel corporations are enough to keep them from collapsing overnight should we choose to divest. Divestment doesn't stop corporations from profiting from our addictions at the gas pump and supermarket, or from striking drilling deals with private landowners.

A related argument for investment is growth in energy demand, which supposedly requires supply to increase. But the United States experienced its lowest rate of population growth ever in the last decade. Our standard of life is comfortable and wasteful. Investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy rather than new production can easily maintain and improve our quality of life.

Demand is not the reason for the Keystone XL pipeline, or for the new pipelines being laid out of the Marcellus Shale to serve us in Boston and the rest of the eastern seaboard; the economic reality is that there is a glut of gas and oil that corporations need to move to make profits. The gluts are so large that these pipelines head to our shores for export. The pipelines create and enable the markets; they don't serve  them.They also lock us domestically further and further into a fossil fuel infrastructure dependency, like a heroin user who has found a new vein.

The unstated fear is the symbolic statement made by university divestment; the fear that this idea is too powerful to stay within the walls of academia and will go viral. The tentacles of fossil fuels run broad and deep, systemically infecting every aspect of society, including our universities. Why else would there be so much resistance among university administrations, whose endowments average only about 2% in fossil fuel producing companies?

The choice for BU is: do we want to continue to invest in and actively promote the growth of a fossil fuel dependent society? Or, by divestment, do we wish to opt out from such active support?

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