I completely support finding sustainable, renewable ways of producing energy for human use, but I cannot agree with what Fossil Free USF calls for. On April 18, 2013, the Foghorn published an opinion advocating a fossil fuel divestment strategy promoted by the student group “Fossil Free USF.”
In summary, the students would like the University of San Francisco to do away with all of its investments in fossil fuels. This student run campaign at USF is part of a global organization called 350.org.
One of my top concerns with Fossil Free USF is the nature of the strategy the campaign hopes to employ. The behavior Fossil Free USF desires is destructive. Removing investments in hopes of hurting oil/energy companies is not constructive behavior; the strategy is intended to destroy. I would hate to imagine an anti-progressive world where people try to destroy others’ ideas rather than build upon and improve them. It is true that certain companies involved with fossil fuels have not made the most ethical business decisions, but it would be disturbing to simply try and destroy a group of businesses rather than improve upon them.
From a macro perspective, oil companies are not in the oil business — they are in the energy business. Oil companies distribute energy everywhere. We have gas stations in almost every city and town in the United States, huge distribution centers, and an established network of consumers. I would imagine the students involved with Fossil Free USF would like to see renewable sources of energy easily distributed to the masses in the near future, but from a strategic point of view, wouldn’t it be foolish to destroy this established energy distribution network rather than build on it? A new water bottle company, for instance, wouldn’t go about destroying retail outlets and distribution centers; the new company would tap into existing retail and distribution networks and use them to promote its products. Would it not likewise be wiser to try to tap into the giant, well-organized brand, retail, and distribution network already established for energy and utilize it for renewable production?
Additionally, Fossil Free USF offers no alternatives to divestment. If USF’s divestment in fossil fuels results in a loss of hundreds of jobs, then what? Who will employ the workers who lost their jobs? Fossil Free USF has also not specified where the money to be divested from fossil fuel companies should go. Which companies involved with sustainable energy should USF invest in that will provide as great a return on investments as fossil fuel companies? What sorts of investment strategies should USF employ? Who will employ new investment strategies? There are many unanswered questions.
While the intentions of Fossil Free USF are good, the strategy proposed for divestment from fossil fuels is poorly planned and does not pose any alternatives for future investments. Students with a college education should offer at least some plan for new and innovative investments rather than just destructive divestment strategies. Renewable and sustainable energy is the way of the future, but employing a divestment strategy with no counter-proposal can cause more harm than good.