“The Moral Case for Divestment from Fossil Fuels”
I’ve just returned from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota.
Gustavus is a pretty campus in the rain, with blue and yellow banners flapping to celebrate their MAYDAY! Symposium on divestment from fossil fuels.
Divest. Etymologically, di-vest means “take off your clothes.” In an ethical context, it means, take a moral stand by shedding investments in immoral practices. In the context of a university’s endowment fund, it means a conscientious and forward-thinking Foundation officer standing up and saying something like this:
“Fossil fuels are disrupting the climate in ways that, if left unchecked, will wreck the world — and our students’ futures. That is flat wrong. The harm to our students is real and ugly and intentional. We will have no part of it. We will not profit from it. We will not trade our students’ futures for any amount of money – and especially not for a dirty dribble of profits from a destructive and dying industry.”
Thank you, Gustavus, for giving me the chance to build the moral case for divestment, gathering and giving voice to the wisdom of many people of conscience. Because I am a philosopher, I worked with a philosopher’s tools, which are ethical discourse, logical analysis, and what David Hume calls the “moral sentiments” among them, outrage, yearning, and ferocious love.
I decided to share my speaking notes here, because I want to put these arguments in the hands of people – students and investment officers alike – who are urging their schools to do the right thing. There should be no mistaking the moral import of this moment. Please read this text, quote it, crib from it, use it in every way that serves the lovely, reeling world.