Bill McKibben Proposes Fossil Energy Divestment Drive
The highly influential environment activist Bill McKibben is proposing a fossil energy divestment campaign, on the model of the international anti-apartheid dis-investment campaign that successfully brought pressure on South Africa’s white-only regime. McKibben was among the organizers who brought the planned Keystone pipeline to a standstill last year, and he has been the leading figure in 350.org, the global movement to roll atmospheric carbon concentrations back to 350 parts per million. (The actual level is edging toward 400 ppm, having been roughly 270 ppm in pre-industrial times.)
McKibben’s latest proposal raises a host of obvious questions: Is climate change really a moral issue in the same sense that apartheid was? Is it not more a practical matter of global self-defense? If we really think it is so unethical to make use of fossil fuels, shouldn’t we all be getting rid of our cars and turning off our electricity, rather than target those who provide us vitally needed energy services? And even if it were unethical to use fossil fuels, would it make sense to penalize their providers indiscriminately? In terms of carbon emitted per unit energy, after all, natural gas is about twice as good as coal and gasoline is a good deal better too. So shouldn’t we encourage the conversion of coal generation to natural gas, rather than declare natural gas companies beyond the pale?