No 1033 Posted by fw, April 14, 2014
In a greatly abridged transcript of an April 14, 2014 Democracy Now broadcast, this post focuses narrowly on remarks by Jamie Henn, co-founder of 350.org. Jamie speaks first about the growth of the divestment movement at universities around the US, and about the importance of an action at Harvard specifically. Then he reports on the surprising discovery some independent financial analysts made when they critically examined a study by American Petroleum Institute. For starters, universities “actually would have made more money if it had divested a decade ago than if it stayed invested in the oil industry. So this is making an impact.” As well, Henn reports “it’s amazing to see how the discussion about divestment, about the threat of a carbon bubble, is beginning to spread on Wall Street.”
To watch the 15:49-minute video of the Democracy Now broadcast and access the complete transcript, click on the following linked title.
Abridged Transcript of Jamie Henn’s Remarks
Momentum is growing in the movement to divest from fossil fuel companies. On Thursday, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu called for an anti-apartheid-style boycott and disinvestment campaign against the industry for its role in driving climate change. Meanwhile, nearly 100 members of the faculty at Harvard University released an open letter calling on the Ivy League school to sell off its interests in oil, gas and coal companies. “If the Corporation regards divestment as ‘political,’ then its continued investment is a similarly political act, one that finances present corporate activities and calculates profit from them,” wrote the professors. “Slavery was once an investment issue, as were apartheid and the harm caused by smoking.” Harvard has the largest university endowment in the country, worth more than $32 billion. We also speak to Jamie Henn, co-founder of the climate change-focused organization, 350.org.
Jamie Henn on the growth of the divestment movement at universities around the country, and about the importance of such an action at Harvard specifically
It’s been amazing to watch the divestment movement spread over the last 18 months, starting on just a few university campuses here in the U.S. and now having spread to over 500 colleges, universities, cities, states, pension funds, hospitals—you name it—not just here in the U.S., but around the world. We have campaigners hard at work in Australia pressuring banks to stop financing coal, across to Europe and in the U.K., where the Quakers have already divested and big pressure is coming on the Church of England.
Harvard is an iconic institution in this fight. And so, having the faculty come out like this so strongly, I think, is a real sign of momentum that things are beginning to escalate on campus, that we’re beginning to find a foothold with the—that administration and administrations across the country. Right now, students at Washington University in St. Louis are doing a sit-in to pressure the campus to cut ties with the Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal company. So this debate is really beginning, I think, to make an impact. And having the voices of incredible leaders like Archbishop Desmond Tutu only adds to a sense of momentum as we get into the spring.
There have been nine colleges across the U.S. that have divested, from east to west, San Francisco State University to small liberal arts institutions on the East Coast. About 20 cities have made a divestment commitment, from San Francisco, Seattle, to smaller towns across the country. Very importantly, a large group of 17 foundations, representing about $1.8 billion in assets, have already divested. People of faith have really taken up this cause, from all sorts of different denominations taking action. And I believe that this weekend we’re going to get another good announcement about a well-known college divesting, as well. So things are picking up speed, and we’re beginning to see this really make an impact.
Henn on the reaction of the fossil fuel industry and on the financial community to the growth of the campaign
I think it’s beginning to have an impact. The American Petroleum Institute last year came out with a study trying to show that universities would be really hard hit endowment-wise if they divested from the oil industry, in particular. We had some financial analysts go back and discover that they had actually just cherry-picked the data from a very short period when the oil industry was doing well, but if you extended that period back, a university actually would have made more money if it had divested a decade ago than if it stayed invested in the oil industry. So this is making an impact.
You know, I think the area where it’s really beginning to resonate, though, is actually in the financial community. I’m based in New York most of the time, and it’s amazing to see how the discussion about divestment, about the threat of a carbon bubble, is beginning to spread on Wall Street. We’re hearing this come up at financial conferences with big-time investors. This is a really powerful idea, that we cannot continue to invest in these companies if we’re going to address climate change in a serious way, and that, in fact, these companies might be seriously overvalued, because they’re saying they can burn fossil fuel reserves, which we simply cannot burn if we’re going to address climate change. So the divestment movement is, I think, having a profound impact, not only on these universities, on the industry itself, but in the financial community, where we really do need to see a massive change in the flow of capital in order to take on this crisis.
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