Talking ourselves off the climate cliff: The need for fossil fuel divestment now

Adam Davidson-Harden

Recently the OTPP has responded to the pressure brought forward by educator union members around the need to support the growing fossil fuel divestment campaign. In an installment of its ‘pension news’ online, the OTPP commented that it believes engagement, rather than divestment, is the best option in terms of addressing the need for pressing action on the climate.

The brief news item relates the idea that the OTPP believes that talking to companies is the best option when it comes to attempting to address the issue of climate change. There is no mention of what sort of talking this might be, or what the purpose or aim of such talking might be.

No amount of talking will convince the world’s top 200 fossil fuel companies of the need to abandon their attempts to exploit every last fossil fuel resource available. Just as the corporate governance model and the idea of fiduciary duty are said to constrain the OTPP’s ability to consider social and ecological criteria in investment decisions, so too does the profit imperative and the concept of fiduciary duty to shareholders dictate every action of the world’s leading fossil fuel companies. This imperative for profit ahead of any other social or ecological concern is obviously part of the problem, but for the moment, let’s focus on the notion of what ‘talking to’ fossil fuel companies is expected to achieve in the current context.

In a climate of increasing and incontrovertible scientific consensus on humanity’s forcing of the climate through CO2 emissions, exploitation of unconventional oil resources has skyrocketed in the US in the Bakken deposits, and the world’s appetite for oil has not abated. The UNFCCC talks have lurched forward without substantive progress to date, in part due to recent obfuscation from countries driven by fossil fuel companies, such as Canada.

Fossil fuel companies, as the principal beneficiaries of a carbon-dependent energy and transportation infrastructure, represent the house in a Vegas casino. They will always win in a civilization dependent on carbon. To these companies, it doesn’t matter that forecasts for climate are increasingly grim – that scientists recommend we ought to be concerned about a six degree rise toward the latter part of this century, as opposed to a two degree rise.

Capitalism’s profit imperative can’t see past a fiscal quarter, let alone to this century’s end. No amount of talking will convince capitalist corporations of the need to abandon a easy, reliable path to profit from an energy resource, fossil fuels, that ought to be a thing of the past. This is why the divestment movement is so necessary.

Union members and citizens in the broader climate movement increasingly realize this. This is why we support the call for fossil fuel divestment. We need to help create momentum toward calling fossil fuel companies to account for their role in stalling and frustrating substantive action on climate change. We need to ‘put our money where our mouth is’ when it comes to acting for climate justice.

A suggestion to ‘talk to’ fossil fuel companies is not the answer to the current global impasse on climate. Divestment is. We call on all educators and workers connected to the OTPP to support the drive to divest from the world’s top 200 fossil fuel companies now.

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