By Bill McKibben / Daily Kos
California’s the center of the new energy revolution—if there was ever any doubt about that, Elon Musk’s announcement of his new home battery from Tesla’s design studio in Hawthorne settled the question. Pushed by the goad of the state’s progressive energy policies, and pulled by the chance to lead in the planet’s greatest energy transition, Silicon Valley is seeing a clean-power goldrush.
And California’s also the center of the climate crisis—one center, anyway. When the state decided not even to carry out the regular May 1 measurement of the snowpack in the Sierras because there was no snowpack to measure, it told the story of the ever-deepening drought in dramatic form.
So now’s the moment for the state of California to become the center of the divestment movement—to join the Rockefellers, or the Church of England, or the Syracuse University, or even Prince Charles in selling off its coal, oil and gas stocks, and thus sending a profound message to the world: the future lies with renewable energy. Digging stuff up and lighting it on the fire is the energy of the past.
California Senate president Kevin DeLeon is backing a bill that would divest the state’s pension funds from the coal industry. That’s a no brainer—these stocks have lost four-fifths of their value in recent years because coal is the dirtiest possible way to power anything. It’s a good step, and one that places like Stanford have long since taken.
And a bunch of central committees in the California Democratic Party–with great leadership from our own RL Miller–seem poised to go farther, calling for the divestment of all fossil fuels from the state’s pension funds and public colleges and universities. That’s the step already taken by places like San Francisco State and Chico State, and it’s akin to what the state did a generation ago when the issue was apartheid. Its bold stance then earned California a visit from the newly released Nelson Mandela, who thanked its people for their solidarity.
Now it’s Mandela’s great contemporary Desmond Tutu who’s helping lead the call for fossil fuel divesment, calling climate change the greatest human rights crisis of our time. It is—and if you think it looks bad from San Francisco, which just came through its driest winter ever, imagine how it seems from Syria where scholars now credit a historic drought with helping kick off the bloody civil war.
As long as we invest in the fossil fuel companies, we help prop up their political power. And as long as that political power remains, the response to climate change will always come too slowly—they’ll continue to make sure that we never get a price on carbon to reflect the damage it causes, and that every new technology will be stomped on as it’s trying to exit the cradle. The days of the fossil fuel companies are numbered, but the exact number is what counts; if they are able to drag out the clean energy transition for decades then the damage will be measured in geologic time.
That’s why divestment makes financial sense: it’s a way to support California’s fastest growing and most dynamic industries. And it’s why it makes such moral sense as well: if it’s wrong to wreck the planet, it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage. Especially when you could be making so much more money doing the right thing.
Bill McKibben is an environmentalist activist who helped found 350.org.