Sunday, November 23, 2014

The “Divest-Invest Philanthropy” Movement and its Statist Roots

Recently the New Jersey Star-Ledger’s Dave D'Alessandro interviewed Dr. Ellen Dorsey, the executive director of the Wallace Global Fund:

[Dorsey] is an expert on impact investing, notably in the area of environmental sustainability, and she has helped galvanize nearly 200 foundations, universities, pension funds, cities, and faith groups, who have chosen to put their money in a place where it might do the planet some good.

Where “it might do the planet some good” is into anything but fossil fuels, particularly “alternative energy” investments. Dorsey is a leader in the fossil fuel divestment movement. “Divest-Invest Philanthropy,” as it is called, “is a tough sell, because multi-billion-dollar endowments are used to big payoffs from their oil stocks.”

Those big payoffs reflect the value billions of human beings derive from fossil fuels. It is shocking, therefor, to read Dorsey’s answer to D’Alessandro’s very first question, “When most of us think about divestment, we think of the [South African] anti-apartheid movement in the 80s. Does this have a similar ethical foundation to you?”:

There is a similar ethical component. When the environmental advocacy community was in the doldrums in the summer of 2009 and 2010, a student movement emerged, taking a cue from the anti-apartheid playbook. At that time, the U.S. government was unwilling to impose sanctions against South Africa because of the power of industry that was blocking it, so the anti-apartheid activists took it into their own hands to target the industries themselves with the tool of divestment.

And though it’s gone well beyond students now, they targeted their universities because they know fossil fuel companies are driving this problem, funding denial of the science and effectively shutting down policy reform. That makes it an ethical issue: Our universities should not profit from companies that drive this global problem that this generation has to respond to. But it’s also a financial call to action, because you can invest in the solution. There’s money to be made there as well.

Yet, the anti-apartheid movement succeeded, despite the alleged “power of industry,” for very valid and powerful moral reasons—the undiluted evil of apartheid. That environmentalists have to resort to such unconscionable equivocation between fossil fuels and apartheid indicates the moral weakness of their case against fossil fuels. If environmentalists’ case is sound, why stoop to such smears? And why attempt to silence the industry, as Dorsey apparently wants to do in tying her cause to “campaign finance reform”—a euphemism for censorship?

I left these comments:

Environmental activists have the right to advocate for voluntary divestment. I support their right to do so, even though I completely disagree with their fundamental premises. Fossil fuel investment and development is not analogous to apartheid. Whereas apartheid is anti-life and unjust, fossil fuels are on balance vastly beneficial to human life and the environment.

Clearly, though, the Wallace Global Fund and its ilk are not just about persuading fund managers to divest voluntarily. They are about forcing—with governmental force, the power of the gun—investment away from fossil fuels and into the environmentalists’ pet “alternative energy” schemes; hence, their support for statist “climate policy” taxes, cap and trade, and so on.

This, despite the fact that $billions in wind and solar taxpayer “investments” —subsidies—over decades has failed to provide any evidence that solar and wind can ever be a primary energy source. Alternative energy’s biggest test—the aftermath of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which should have provided a showcase for the reliability of solar and wind—instead proved the indispensable value of fossil fuels. If fossil fuel companies are villains, then so is every fossil fuel consumer who prefers to do themselves “some good” by using energy from fossil fuels. Policies that hamper fossil fuel energy production will starve the market of reliable, affordable energy, drive up the cost, and make life harder for billions of people.

Yet, the anti-fossil fuel camp keeps trying, but they have a problem; those pesky voters. The kinds of policies anti-reliable energy types advocate—environmentalists don’t even support nuclear, which emits no co2—haven’t gained much political traction lately, and have even lost ground. Despite powerful positions in governments around the world, climate change crusaders are losing on the battleground of ideas and in the electoral arena, hence the folding of “campaign finance reform” into the climate change movement. One thing statists can’t tolerate is opposing viewpoints. The enemy of all statists is free speech. The failure of alternatives to win in the economic marketplace, coupled with a failure of their decades-long hysteria-mongering to convince average people to take always-imminent global climate catastrophe seriously, fossil fuel’s enemies demand campaign finance “reform” to silence effective voices of opposition.

The connection between environmentalism and statism is no accident. The modern environmentalist movement, which began as the New Left “ecology” movement on college campuses in the 1960s, is a movement initiated and led by neo-Marxist, New Left anti-capitalist ivory tower intellectuals. They've been crying wolf ever since. Yet, no catastrophe—just a better life for billions of formerly third world people built on the strength fossil fuel energy. No compassionate person would want to stop that progress.

Human beings survive and thrive by turning Earth’s raw materials into valuable resources, and those resources into life-enhancing products. Fossil fuels are one of those resources, helping to make life longer, healthier, and safer for billions of people. By all means, let’s leave people free to invest and divest as they please. But keep the political weapon out of the market, and let all energy producers compete for consumers’ energy dollars without government favoritism [. . . or hindrance].

Related Reading:

Fossil Fuels Improve the Planet—Alex Epstein

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