Dialogue, not divestment, is the key to combating climate change

Dialogue, not divestment, is the key to combating climate change
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As temperatures drop nationwide in what has become a harsh winter, discussions about fossil fuel divestment and climate change continue to heat up.

On Jan. 31, the day after President Donald TrumpDonald TrumpVirginia GOP gubernatorial nominee acknowledges Biden was 'legitimately' elected Biden meets with DACA recipients on immigration reform Overnight Health Care: States begin lifting mask mandates after new CDC guidance | Walmart, Trader Joe's will no longer require customers to wear masks | CDC finds Pfizer, Moderna vaccines 94 percent effective in health workers MORE’s first State of the Union Address, noted climate activist Bill McKibben, together with other climate change leaders, will convene what they are billing as a “Fossil Free Fast” to urge the nation towards the goal of abandoning fossil fuels and adopting 100 percent renewable energy. 

Bill McKibben is, of course, one of the founders of 350.org and one of the more aggressive voices among the environmental movement. While many, including myself, support the idea of creating a cleaner, greener earth, his strategies have raised concern among many in the environmental community for being far outside the mainstream — including advocating for population control as a real path to saving our environment. In the late 1990s, he even threw his support behind China’s one-child policy as a solution for limiting population growth. 


He has called economic growth “one big habit we finally must break” and encouraged the drastic raising of gas prices so that most people cannot afford personal vehicles. In his view, moving toward a simpler, less economically developed world is central to staving off what otherwise would be an inevitable environmental Armageddon. In other words, growing the economy means killing our planet.

Given this underpinning philosophy, Bill McKibben’s apparent push to cut off investments in fossil fuel stocks comes as no surprise.

Stopping the flow of money to companies producing low-cost energy, McKibben reasons, helps to limit the emissions that cause climate change.

The reality, however, is that fossil fuel divestment by pension funds, endowments, and financial investments isn’t the best approach to combating carbon emissions; in fact, it likely will do nothing at all to reduce those emissions.

That’s because the power to change policy always comes from working with stakeholders, including energy companies, not cutting ties with them. If you really want to make a difference in limiting carbon emissions, it is dialogue, not divestment, that is key.

My belief in the power of collaboration is what led me to found the African American Environmental Association, an organization that delivers environmental ideas directly into communities of color.

We believe that the best way to combat climate change is through educating consumers, facilitating technologies that conserve energy, and advocating for sensible policies that consider both impact on local economies and the ability to preserve our environment for our children.

By implementing policies that reduce our carbon footprint, encouraging the adoption of renewable energy by making it more affordable and accessible, and providing better public and green transportation options, we take vital steps toward a healthier planet.

By investing our time in more energy efficient buildings and in programs that reduce wastewater, we take tangible steps forward for our environment.

The path toward a more sustainable planet will be paved by proactive policies, not by politicized pensions. If we want to generate results, instead of just headlines and senseless arrests, we will work to encourage energy companies to invest in cleaner and greener fuel sources and educate consumers about how they can play their part in limiting carbon emissions.

Instead of pressuring countries, states, municipalities, endowments, and pension boards to divest from fossil fuels, we will spread the message that they best serve our shared future by remaining part of the dialogue with the world’s energy producers. Creating the future we all want will take strong, sensible voices finding common ground.

Norris McDonald, a longtime environmental activist, is the president of the African American Environmentalist Association.