Is fossil fuel divestment tokenistic?


Last year, the Australian National University attracted headlines with its plan to divest from companies deriving income from the sale of fossil fuels. This decision by the university attracted both applause and criticism from politicians, commentators and the media. 

Since then, superannuation funds, and even the Church of England have followed suit.


But is fossil fuel diverstment just tokenistic window dressing?

The decision to
divest from companies that derive revenue from the sale of fossil fuels is not only tokenistic and window dressing, it may actually be counter-productive to the development and rolling out of renewable energy.

Who are some of the major investors in renewal energy? You got it – energy companies that make money out of fossil fuels.

BP has been a world leader in the development of solar technology. They were until recently the world’s largest manufacturer of photovoltaic cells. Chevron and many other ‘fossil fuel’ energy suppliers are involved in the development of renewable technologies and the roll out of renewable energy projects.

But these decisions to divest from fossil fuel companies cuts them out.

What overlook are the unintended consequences of their decisions, and decisions including fossil fuel divestment. This decision which seeks to reduce the use of fossil fuels could actually have the opposite impact by disempowering the greatest investors in renewables and slow down the rolling out of new technology.

In the end, fossil fuel divestment is not much more than lazy window dressing and moral preening.

What would make a difference is if people insisted that their energy companies provided renewable options.

What would make a difference is if consumers actually changed their behaviours rather than making feel good statements that demand little of themselves, and what’s more, could actually be counter-productive to their intended consequence.