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About this blog: I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to the area in 1963 when I started graduate school at Stanford. Nancy and I were married in 1977 and we lived for nearly 30 years in the Duveneck school area. Our children went to Paly. We moved ...  (More)

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Divestment Not a Good Way to Fight Climate Change

Uploaded: Feb 1, 2015
Next week the city council will discuss a memo from council members Berman, Burt, Holman and Kniss seeking to ask CalPERS to divest holdings in companies associated with fossil fuels. I appreciate their intentions with regard to climate change but do think divestment is a poor strategy with some unintended negative consequences.

I know these council members and endorsed Berman and Holman in the recent election. I listened yesterday to the council retreat and appreciate the good will and ideas from council members Burt and Kniss, especially Liz's passionate plea to include healthy communities as a priority for Palo Alto. I also have many friends who will probably support this memo because they feel passionately about climate change.

I think climate change is real and actions are needed. I support America's efforts to engage international partners and federal legislation to encourage higher mileage vehicles and alternative energy development where cost effective. I support California's laws regarding low carbon fuel standards, the cap and trade system to reduce GHG emissions and have been part of the Air Resources Board team of economists who confirmed that AB32 regulations would not harm the state economy. I support Palo Alto's efforts to reduce the need for car travel and hope we can do something to encourage cost effective energy retrofits of buildings.

So why not divestment, too? First, I believe that individuals have the right to do what they wish with their own initiatives to fight climate change—to sell their stock in these companies. Here we are talking about investments that affect other people, not personal choices.

One, I don't like the idea of elected officials telling financial professionals how to invest money. I also would not support Palo Alto council members telling doctors and hospitals how to deliver health care. It may be true that going forward other investments may offer returns as good as those from fossil; fuel companies but that should be the decision of the financial advisors.

Two, there will be unintended victims of divestment. Divestment is about stock ownership. If successful, divestment will push down the prices of stock in targeted companies as well as possibly making future operations more costly. That stock and the associated losses will hurt innocent investors. Moreover causing financial distress to the companies may undermine the very measures we are seeking—investment in cleaner fuels and alternative energy sources.

Three, divestment does not raise a dollar to improve CalTrain, retrofit buildings, invest in traffic mitigation measures in Palo Alto like shuttles, encourage China, India and Brazil to reduce GHG emissions.

There are better ways to achieve these goals and to address climate change and they deserve our full attention.

I also believe in walking the talk. Though I do not support divestment, we have owned a hybrid since 2002 and now own a plug in EV. My wife is conscious about efficient light bulbs and keeping close control of our energy use. But we have not abandoned air travel (a big fuel user) and I do not check every item in our daily lives to see if it is the most effective response to climate change.

I am hopeful that responders will honor two requests.

One, address all three of my points. It is fine to disagree but state a position on all points so readers know your reasoning.

Two, if you believe that divestment is a good policy for the city to tell others what to do, please tell readers how you are "walking the talk" in your own personal lives (a good idea for the colleague memo's authors as well) including that you have examined the holdings in any mutual funds or stocks you own or are managed for you and sold any that have fossil fuel companies.

Comments

 +   4 people like this
Posted by Justin, a resident of Cuesta Park,
on Feb 1, 2015 at 12:50 pm

Good post, I completely agree. I would add that nothing Palo Alto does by itself (aside from cleantech startups) will make a noticeable difference on climate change-we need a real international effort.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Contrarian, a resident of University South,
on Feb 1, 2015 at 4:27 pm

One, proscribing a class of investments is not equivalent to micromanaging the portfolio. There are many other investment options.

Two, all investments have a certain innate amount of uncertainty. But the CalPers investment professionals, being professionals, would never simply dump their holdings and thereby tank their own portfolio. So your scenario won't happen.

Three, totally true.

It's Grandstanding 101, nothing more.

My turn: why do publicize your EV, which is powered by the dirtiest energy, grid electricity, available in Palo Alto? Or do you have or plan to build a solar carport for it?


 +   4 people like this
Posted by DivestOrDie, a resident of another community,
on Feb 2, 2015 at 12:15 am

Worldwide, 3 to 7 million people die prematurely from fossil fuel pollution, every year. Human extinction is a possible, if not likely outcome if we approach runaway global warming. Without a radical redirection we can anticipate half a billion climate refugees within two to three decades. Divestment is already having its intended effect of shaming politicians and investors to redirect their efforts past their own selfish interests. 80% of fossil fuel assets must be left in the ground for us to remain below 2 degrees Celsius. These will become stranded assets and worthless. Fossil fuel stocks are starting to wane and will start to crash with in the next 5 years. Wind and solar can supply 100 percent of our energy needs. It will cost about 44 trillion to pay for this transition. We are currently spending about 5 trillion on fossil fuels globally per year and about 600 billion to find new sources. Fossil fuel special interests have had a long history of both legally and illegally influencing politicians, laws, economics and culture. The benefits of redirecting investments are many: quality of life, economic welfare, including jobs, democratization of resources. Check out the SolutionsProject.org to see plans for 100% wind water and solar for all 50 states. It\'s can be built in less than 15 years. In less than three years affordable all electric vehicles will blow past our Priuses. Centuries of corrupt accounting that disregards externalities, the actual impacts on people and nature, can not, and will not stop this energy transition and the restoration generations of this century. Thanks for the discussion.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Divest Please!, a resident of Cuesta Park,
on Feb 2, 2015 at 2:54 am

I started to respond to all three of your points, but realize that you packed in many more points than three, it?s late and I?m tired so I may not get to them all. Sorry about that.

I don?t understand why you bought an electric vehicle if it wasn?t for the environment. I assume you had a fully internal-combustion engine gasoline car before? Your very action is divesting from a product that is associated with fossil fuels. So, you DO support divestment.

You also state that you don?t want ?elected officials? to tell financial professionals how to invest money. You wrote, ?Here we are talking about investments that affect other people, not personal choices.? So, you would allow investment in anything around the world? Blood diamonds in certain African countries? How about a very high interest loan to North Korea? Or is that different because people are dying mining the diamonds? Or the embargoes on oppressive governments is OK?

But somehow the fate of our planet doesn?t rate ?telling elected officials how to invest money?? Interesting.

The ?unintended consequence? argument is weak. If the companies that are killing our planet take a hit in their stock price, your primary concern are the ?innocent investors?? (There is no such think as an ?innocent investor? by the way. Caveat Emptor!) Or is it the fossil fuel companies that you are concerned with? That causing them financial distress will undermine their investment in cleaner alternatives? Seriously? We had to drag them kicking and screaming to develop electric vehicles (through subsidy and mandatory gas mileage improvement milestones). I don?t think a point or two (or even 10) off their stock price would create any more resistance?.that is maxed out already!

"Three, divestment does not raise a dollar to improve CalTrain?? Oh, stop right there. What is this obsession to improve CalTrain? Why is it more important to figure out ways to shuttle high-tech workers between SF and the Valley then to directly encourage fossil fuel companies to develop methods and procedures that stop killing our planet?

I think the city, county, state and federal government need to get aligned on climate change and hit it at all angles. Pressuring China to slow down their industrializing while having our enormous pension funds continuing to invest in companies that pollute our planet is a bit hypocritical, don?t you think?

My stock holdings? I keep it all in gold coins in my now very lumpy mattress. That?s why I can?t sleep!


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 2, 2015 at 12:00 pm

> Worldwide, 3 to 7 million people die prematurely from
> fossil fuel pollution, every year.

Claims like this are unsupportable with real evidence. Studies here in the US that have made similar claims about premature deaths? associated with diesel engines always end up using data that involves elderly people who have various respiratory problems who are also close to death. The studies also involve highly speculative statistical models that involve a large number of variables.

> Human extinction is a possible, if not likely outcome
> if we approach runaway global warming.

Not even likely. Humans lived through the last ice age, which had nothing to do with fossil fuels?so claiming humans would disappear from the planet if we don?t stop using fossil fuels is .. well .. just insane. The planet has gone through a number of so-called mass extinctions, and none of them have been attributed to human activity. And all life did not go extinct, either.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 2, 2015 at 1:01 pm

@Joe

You cannot have it both ways. You cannot demand evidence for someone else's claims, then make unsupportable claims yourself. Plus, I see no supportable reason to dismiss the infirmities of our elder citizens.

It is clear that the consequences of the added thermal energy in the atmosphere and the oceans due to warming -- cities facing rising sea levels, ever more frequent ever more extreme weather, shifting and shrinking crop growing areas-- are not conducive to human prosperity.

To Steve's points: Palo Alto could make a statement, and it probably will, but it will have no perceptible outcome. The state will pay no attention to the resolution. Even if it did, there are many other investment opportunities. Meantime the fossil fuel industry will go on unfazed.

As computer types say, it's another big no-op (no operation).

BTW, elected officials do tell professionals what to do all the time, especially government employees. Maybe not much in Palo Alto, but in a big way in Sacramento.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 2, 2015 at 1:49 pm

> You cannot demand evidence for someone else's claims, then
> make unsupportable claims yourself

What claims do you maintain are unsupportable?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Feb 2, 2015 at 1:56 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Let's see if we can get back to discussing divestment and my arguments, not claims about climate change. Many posters are doing that and I appreciate the effort.

I have let a variety of views be expressed but debating climate change is not the point of the blog.

Please continue to focus comments on whether divestment is a good or effective approach to addressing climate change.

I appreciate the divergence of views on my points one and two and will respond when I have more time.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Alan, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Feb 2, 2015 at 11:03 pm

How about - instead of a policy of *divestment*, a policy of active *investment* in cleantech technologies? Palo Alto is the sort of city where they can find people who know how to make the right bets in this technology - which could produce both an ROI for the city and, perhaps, help (a little) to promote better clean technology get a footing.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Divest or Die, a resident of another community,
on Feb 3, 2015 at 2:27 am

Ok, please see the below links to scientific and professional support of my previous arguments. Thanks.

Stanford plan for 100% wind, water and solar globally by 2050, current/historic deaths from dirty fuels, costs, savings, jobs
Web Link

A leading reinvestment organization
 Web Link

A recent pro divestment article
Web Link






 +  Like this comment
Posted by Divest or Die, a resident of another community,
on Feb 3, 2015 at 2:30 am

Even the Rockefellers are divesting
 Web Link

Climate refugees by 2050
 Web Link

 Web Link


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Divest or Die, a resident of another community,
on Feb 3, 2015 at 2:34 am

Last Hours, Thom Hartmann discuses the potential of human extinction from climate change
Web Link

Apologies for multiple posts, the system did not accept more than three at a time. Again thank you for this discussion.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Steve Eittreim, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Feb 3, 2015 at 11:25 am

I appreciate Steve Levy's very well-written essay on why divestment in fossil fuels is a bad idea. I disagree and would like to respond to Levy's three points:

1) Yes, of course people should have the right to invest in whatever they like, but profiting by adding carbon to the atmosphere will badly harm my grandchildren's climate and I want to discourage that.

2) Victims of divestment, some of who will be "innocent." I certainly don't consider the oil and coal companies innocent. They know what they are doing. They have had the opportunity to diversify into broader energy companies for many years now with their humungous profits, but their efforts along those lines have been trivial. Remember BP Oil's name change years ago to "Beyond Petroleum." Their leadership quickly decided that was a mistake and they withdrew the name change. Remember Exxon-Mobil's quarter-page ads on the editorial page of the New York Times for many years declaring that the science behind climate change was bogus.

3) Hopefully when people and institutions divest, they will take the money and invest it in things that are good for our future, rather than bad for our future, such as solar, wind, biofuels, or electric trains.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Alan, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Feb 3, 2015 at 1:06 pm

Alan is a registered user.

I can address the three points:

"One, I don't like the idea of elected officials telling financial professionals how to invest money. I also would not support Palo Alto council members telling doctors and hospitals how to deliver health care."

Actually, they should tell financial professionals what there values are. Once their values are articulated, it is the job of the financial professionals to find something that reflects the investors interests (not just ROI; it's perfectly OK to express more). Likewise, doctors and hospitals *ought* to understand the wishes of their patients. A patient does not have the knowledge of a doctor, but they can express thoughts, such as whether they want to have aggressive intervention in a terminal disease, or palliative care.

"Two, there will be unintended victims of divestment." There are unintended victims of the use of certain technology as well. Here, I'm not against the idea of divesting from any company involved in fossil fuels, but rather, I would prefer that some companies have better behavior than others. Nissan sells gasoline cars; they're also aggressive developing technology for electric cars, and therefore, helping the transition to cleaner transportation. It may make sense to, say, shift dollars to those companies that are showing genuine commitment to the "way forward", rather than have a strict "no fossil fuels" rule.

"Three, divestment does not raise a dollar to improve CalTrain, ..." true, but it doesn't hurt, either. It's unrelated.



 +   2 people like this
Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Feb 3, 2015 at 2:15 pm

One, the idea: Divestment contributes to the wealth gap, because the wealthy are more able to capitalize on market inefficiencies. Whether this is pro or con depends on one's desire to increase wealth at the expense of others. Tell me what day CalPERS will dump Exxon, and I'll be there waiting. If I were on council, I'd abstain due to conflict of interest.

Two, unintended victims: See number one. Also, any resulting share-price decline from divestment will translate to a higher dividend yield, given that revenues and profit margin are unaffected. Exxon currently yields 3.0 percent. And cheaper shares make share-buyback programs more effective, $75B for Exxon in the past 5 years. Depressed share prices only make future operations more costly to companies still making initial or secondary public offerings of new shares.

Three, lack of dollars raised for mitigation: No argument. Moreover, to the extent that divestiture reduces return, we will be liable for increased CalPERS contributions, thus reducing any mitigation funds. Note my focus on Exxon stems from it being the largest single holding of CalPERS.

Four, walking the talk: Even though I'm pseudo-anonymous here, I generally take the Fifth. But since you ask, I don't drive a SUV, don't live in a McMansion, don't have air-conditioning, always worked within walking distance of home, take Caltrain when visiting San Francisco, and tend to be overly frugal due to upbringing by depression-era parents in a section of Palo Alto so poor that my high school closed. That said, I'm happy to help provide others with everything they demand, by investing in companies that cater to their unbridled consumption.

World population has tripled in my lifetime. We are just 15% into this century and already added a net 1.2 billion mouths to feed. Fighting greenhouse gases may be laudable, but at this rate it's just rearranging the deck chairs.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by resident 1, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Feb 3, 2015 at 6:30 pm

I agree with Steve Levy on this point. What is driving this initiative is a group of churches who feel the need to be social activist. I am not for non-profits who own a lot of property across the US, and have very good pension plans - to dictate to government bodies how to manage their resources.
The state of California is one of the biggest economies in the world and is highly dependent on oil for shipping, planes, industry, etc. If you notice the oil industry is very prevalent in our port cities. California is a major processor of oil products - both in Northern California and Southern California.
The CALpers pension fund is a gigantic fund that needs to be continually productive to support the economy of the state. Targeting this fund is debilitating to the recipients of the funds. We elect people to manage the state funds - this effort is attempting to override the elected people who are qualified to run the fund at the state level.

If the group in question has a desire to challenge the state they should do it directly.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace,
on Feb 4, 2015 at 12:05 pm

Steve,

I am not sure you answered this question:

Will divestment away from fossil fuel companies hurt the CalPERS portfolio, or not? Oil stocks are low right now, but there is probably going to be a lot of pressure for them to go up, again. Don't California towns and cities need to make up deficits in CalPERS?

Thanks.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Feb 4, 2015 at 1:36 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

We have regulations to promote clean fuels, cars that use less fuel, subsidies for solar power and energy efficient appliances. We have a cap and trade policy that requires companies that produce fuel for vehicles to buy permits and annually reduce the emissions of their products.

Why in addition does it make sense to hurt the companies and their shareholders financially? Does that help them meet the regulations to reduce GHG emissions from fossil fuel use? How?

Some posters write that divestment will help reduce fossil fuel use. I disagree. I think regulations, innovation and incentives reduce fossil fuel dependence and hurting companies does no such thing.

I want success not vengeance or teaching someone a lesson.

Some posters have written that the companies and their investors are selfish and corrupt--no clean hands. Does that include the employees?

Are the firefighters and police and office workers covered in Palo Alto's pension plans selfish and corrupt?

I could see the employees if there were fully informed about risks, asking that their investments be handled differently but why do the residents get to manage other people's money.

As posters have pointed out, it is one thing to manage one's own money as you wish. But divestment is not that-it is about other people's money.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Feb 4, 2015 at 1:44 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Posters have written that studies show that fossil fuel investments are not necessary to get good returns.

But that would not hold if the divestment campaigns around the world are successful. There would then be large amounts of stock to sell and almost certainly there would be losses on current investments.

If one or two investors do something, the market can be little affected. But if all do it, the results are different. What is true when small is not still true when much larger in this case.

Not only do I see no merit in massive disinvestment of fossil fuel companies (healthy companies and strong regulation seems far superior), I see losses for innocent investors if massive sales tank stock prices.

For what gain?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Feb 4, 2015 at 2:01 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Let's talk airplanes and air travel. I travel a lot and my friends who are really concerned about climate change travel even more.

This example raises a few interesting issues

--walking the talk

--users versus producers

--alternatives??

What do the divestment folks have to say about air travel? I thought it used a lot of fossil fuel.

Are people who fly selfish and corrupt?

What is the alternative if you punish oil companies and drive the stock price down?

How does that help reduce air travel fuel use. Or are Boeing and Delta on the list of divestment companies and how would that help?

Is there an alternative clean fuel that is available and economic for air travel? Should flyers suffer while divestment advocates hope that some time in the future there are alternatives?

Do you think selling oil company stocks (you cannot affect Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iraq, Iran and others) will make fossil fuel products cheaper or more expensive?

How do you reconcile hurting the shareholders?

Have all the advocates taken the no fly pledge, given up vehicles powered by fossil fuels, replaces all their appliances with the most energy efficient types?

The producers make the stuff. We choose to use it.

So how do you see divestment affecting air travel energy use and what are the near tern alternatives and their impacts?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Feb 4, 2015 at 2:32 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

To Steve Eitteim

Thank you for your thoughtful response.

We agree about the importance of reducing fossil fuel use. I do not believe divestment does that.

I think the way to combine your thoughtful respect of the right of people to make their own investment decisions with your concern for your grandchildren is to work on the producer side for cleaner fuels and less fuel dependent vehicles and on the user side for most other changes in fossil fuel use.

I hear that you do not consider oil and coal companies "innocent". I do and we disagree.

But please acknowledge that my point is not about corporate leadership but about the innocent public employees, shareholders and company employees.

My grandfather bought some Standard Oil of New Jersey (now EXXon) in the 1940s for my yet unborn children. Back then there was no climate science predicting world collapse? Oil companies and fossil fuel users were the good guys helping the nation prepare for war and prosper after the war. Was my grandfather selfish and corrupt, endangering his unborn great grandchildren?

Should I sell the stock and pay a large capital gains tax because you think oil companies are evil? Or should your neighbors? Or is that their decision and mine?

So you have these established companies, decades in existence, and then climate science warns of a threat. When did they become corrupt? What would you have had then do? Stop producing oil? Start inventing clean cars--which would have gone no place without incentives--a government policy. So was the government complicit and corrupt?

Last you write that hopefully when people divest the money will be used for good purposes.

These are separate issues. CalPERS takes in a great deal of new money each year and if the oversight committee wants to invest in energy efficient companies, they have plenty of funds without selling existing companies. They can change the portfolio quickly or they could sell stocks in other fields that have poor prospects and use that money,

And much of the heavy lifting will be done by public investment, which is easier if we don't have to contribute extra money to make up for divestment stock losses.

Steve, I bet if we sat down we would find a dozen areas to agree to move forward on. And one that we don't.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Steve, a resident of Shoreline West,
on Feb 4, 2015 at 2:36 pm

"I believe that individuals have the right to do what they wish with their own initiatives to fight climate change"

In no way does divesting prevent that.

"One, I don't like the idea of elected officials telling financial professionals how to invest money."

It's money they are responsible for. They should be telling them how to invest it. You tell your financial professional how to invest your money, don't you? And there is no question that it can be invested in other areas that are just as profitable.

"Two, there will be unintended victims of divestment. ... hurt innocent investors. Moreover causing financial distress to the companies"

That is intended. Indeed, it's the whole point of divestment.

"Three, divestment does not raise a dollar to improve CalTrain..."

And neither does it take away a dollar, provided the money is invested elsewhere.

"There are better ways to achieve these goals"

In no way does using "better ways" doesn't prevent divesting.

So the author has not explained the claim made in the title.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by resident 1, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Feb 4, 2015 at 4:35 pm

The economy of California is growing based on air travel of people and consumer items. The shipping industry is growing based on the transfer of commercial items and to a lesser degree cruise travel. Railroads are transporting goods as are trucks. That is how commerce is conducted. All use oil. Heating in general is using gas / oil. Those are the realities of how business is conducted.

You are not going to replace air travel or shipping / trucking. Trying to put the companies out of business that produce the oil / gas to keep the engine running does not make sense.

Are the churches indicated proud of infringing on the economy of the state?
It is attempting to debilitate the economy.
The economies of Europe are failing as they are not keeping their total economic environment running smoothly - and they do not have enough resources in some places to keep their population warm in very cruel winters. That is why Europe is in upheavel. We do not need to duplicate their economic policies.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by resident 1, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Feb 5, 2015 at 11:26 am

You all need to check out where your funds are invested. Vanguard 500 Index Fund? Schwab 1,000 Index Fund? The majority of people are invested in Index Funds so they are not dependent on individual brokers. Check out who they include in the "Energy Sector"
So all of you folks get on the phone and tell your brokerage House to sell your Index funds. You then will translate yourself into an individual broker vs letting the Market drive your investments.
Congratulations - then you can read the Sunday SJM which has a column on investing called Motley Fool.
Enjoy your retirement.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by resident 1, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Feb 5, 2015 at 1:01 pm

Please note that the Presbyterian Church in their 2014 General Assembly Meeting voted for Divestment in Motorola, Caterpillar, and Hewlett Packard due to their direct involvement in the Israeli - Palestine controversy.
There is no mention of fossil fuels. Church policy is derived from the General Assembly.
If you note a previous stream on this platform had an on-going discussion concerning the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church which voted to align with a different group.
All of the churches are confusing at this time and are splintering down based on conformance to sociological movements.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Feb 5, 2015 at 4:41 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

As I understand the divestment proponents, the objective is to reduce oil and coal production and divert investment to non fossil fuel energy sources.

But divestment only applies to companies with stock outstanding and then only to the largest companies.

I think that effectively turns back substantial control control of world oil production to governments in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, and Libya.

I am having trouble seeing how this is a good idea on economic or foreign policy terms.

And I admit it does strike me as strange that faith based groups would want to cede economic and political power to governments many of which have really poor records on human rights, especially for women.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Robert Neff, a resident of Midtown,
on Feb 6, 2015 at 10:52 am

Thanks for the blog, Steve.

I must admit, I'm not getting the cause/effect for the fossil fuel divestment idea.

As long as we keep using fossil fuels, does it matter who owns the oil companies? As long as we buy oil, the oil companies will sell it to us, and make their profits. Widespread divestment could make things less comfortable for the big extraction companies on the financial side, but it seems like an indirect and relatively ineffective way to change the amount of carbon going into the air.

Increasing the cost for carbon -- a carbon "tax", for all carbon that comes out of the ground is the only solution that works. Working solutions like California's Cap and Trade is just a way to tax without calling it a tax.

I think if fossil fuel divestment does not change the price at the pump, it is not worth all this effort.

By the way, the big win at the personal level is to make as many trips as you can without bringing along that extra 3000 lbs of car.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Brian Schmidt, a resident of Mountain View,
on Feb 6, 2015 at 3:48 pm

I think Stephen is missing two issues:

1. A successful divestment campaign can help support political action to reduce emissions, by helping show the limits of the political power of the fossil fuel corporations. This is what happened with South Africa. Yes it would be a problem if the entire world divested from every fossil fuel company tomorrow, but that's a straw man. Under a realistic range of options in the near future, a growing divestment campaign is a positive force for action on climate.

2. Fossil fuel stocks are massively overvalued, based on the political judgment that their entire fossil fuel reserves can be emitted into the atmosphere. Bursting that carbon bubble early is better for the economy. I suppose some investors may otherwise have sold before stronger regulation knocked down valuations, but keeping a bubble inflated only makes things worse. Regulatory threats are now acknowledged by fossil fuel firms, and more divestment can help tamp down the bubble.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Feb 6, 2015 at 4:08 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Thanks Brian.

I think in return you are missing the point that only a small part of oil production is controlled by stock companies.

Please consider the point that I and others have made that reducing production from stock companies strengthens the power of governments like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela and Libya where stock ownership and regulation is irrelevant.

Why would faith based groups want to give power to governments that abuse human rights and exploit women when a simple solution is to center oil production here while we are searching for alternatives and do INvestment in alternatives rather than DIvest stock that may hurt employees, pensioners and other shareholders for minimal gain and potential large harm to the economy and human rights?

The money to INvest in alternatives does not depend on divesting oil company stocks. Pension funds accumulate new money every year and can sell other stocks depending on financial advice. There is plenty of opportunity for funds to invest in financially interesting clean energy situations.

On what basis FYI do you presume to offer the CalPERS pension managers advice on whether certain stocks are overvalued.

Why not move forward where we agree--climate change is real and alternatives are worth pursuing, and regulation is important.

I don't think making oil companies "evil" accomplishes a lot except emotion and in the end users can choose not to fly or drive if they feel strongly. We need to work on changing USE patterns by offering people good alternatives.

There are no villains here, just people struggling to adapt to climate change while we develop better choices for ourselves.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Ouch, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Feb 6, 2015 at 5:46 pm

SL: (I will leave the post up unedited but make comments and hope that some of the divestment advocates who have posted above will dissociate themselves from this kind of rhetoric. And some of his/her comments are pretty funny.)

Here the post begins..

"...when a simple solution is to center oil production here while we are searching for alternatives..."

Stephen Levy's true colors are now apparent. Center oil production in the US?! He wants oil wells on every street corner and oil refineries in every town.

(SL: I do not recall making the oil wells on every corner statement and point to the fact that U.S. production has increased without this happening.)

I didn't know he was a Tea Party member.

(SL: This is one of the funnier posts since just today I posted in favor of increasing the minimum wage, am a lifelong Democrat, and professionally help defend the economic benefits of California's clean air and GHG reduction policies. It is sad when disagreement leads to this kind of personal nonsense. I respect nearly all the posters I am disagreeing with about the best way to address climate change and until this post no one has gotten personal.)

Sure! Sign on with the oil wells, exploit the atmosphere killing crud in our earth's core and change it from within!

(SL: See the comment above about certifying the economic benefits of cleaning the air. That means taking on oil company consultant studies in some cases/)

Search for alternatives, my butt. Significant searching happens only when it is absolutely necessary.

(SL: Gosh no one told Elon Musk he had to wait for divestment to start Tesla. No one told the U.S. and state governments they had to wait for divestment before offering incentives for solar or battery research. No one told the thriving solar companies they had to wait for divestment. Seems to be a lot of significant searching going on without divestment and more is possible if pension funds want. They take in money every year.)

We can't wait for the oil to run very low, since our planet would be dead by then. However, we can take a stand now and no longer INVEST in fossil fuels.

That's the point that stephen is ignoring. He's complaining that "divestment doesn't work" and that it is evil (might damage poor "innocent investors" who decide to pile their money into these companies).

(SL: We keep hearing this disparagement of investors yet city employees and many posters and others hold mutual/index funds with fossil fuel stocks. Are they evil people putting their grandchildren at risk for their greed?)

Why doesn't he look at it the other way around. It's not that we are divesting, it's just that we are increasing our investments in other sectors (or subsectors). What is wrong with investing in other areas in the energy sector?

(SL: We agree and the poster is apparently too angry to read that in the post right above his/hers, I am arguing for such investments. Why not work with what we agree on?)

A good financial professional will try to diversity across all asset classes. I bet a competent one could come up with a portfolio that removes the dirtiest of the fossil fuel companies (move that money into solar, wind, energy storage, etc..) and have comparable long term performance.) Or invest in more precious metals, which tends to track oil prices.

SL: Yes perhaps financial managers can make money without holding fossil fuel stocks and they are free to do so. Are posters arguing that the CalPers board and their consultants are corrupt?)

SL: But no one yet has answered why people of faith would choose divestment over investment in alternatives when divestment applies only to stock companies and not governments like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Russia. Why does it make sense to have more oil produced by governments with really bad human rights abuses (against women and others), lose the foreign policy leverage that no longer needing their oil as much means and give back control over oil prices to these folks. We control our policies to support investments that will reduce oil use by finding good alternatives. Why not rally together around that goal?)

Lots of way to do that. However, there is lots of money from the oil industry going into lobbying efforts to stop divestment programs. (Remember all the manipulation the cigarette industry did? Same.)


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Resident 1, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Feb 7, 2015 at 12:50 am

The issue with oil production is that it is occurring all over the world where available - Canada and Mexico the closest. I have traveled to the middle east to countries that were previously in the soviet bloc and want to be democracies and self determined - however Russia has control of the pipelines so the countries are pulled into the soviet bloc not by choice but by need. That is the sword held over their heads. If you look at the maneuvering going on now in that region who controls the oil fields drives a lot of the fighting.

Nuclear power left to amateurs and political hot heads (North Korea) is going to destroy the earth before oil does. Oil is required to keep people warm and for cooking. The alternative there is coal which is a very dirty heater.

It is coal that is destroying China's air quality - not oil.

I think the American oil companies are doing the best and cleanest job with the product - that is why the Canadian pipe line would go down to Texas because they have the best facilities to process the oil.

If we have the best facilities then we are doing a good job - better then most other countries.

People here think they are setting an example and want to be leaders. But the rest of the world is not listening - they need to work, eat, and be warm. If this is a politically directed action then the rest of the world is not paying attention - they are living their lives.

People need to get out more to other countries if they are invested in this topic - you can't sit in Palo Alto or the peninsula and provide outlook on what people are experiencing in other countries. The people / countries that went through WW2 have a very different view then people in the US. I think the people on the east coast also have a different view then people in California which is relatively warm. Heating is less of an issue for California then the east coast.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Resident 2, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Feb 8, 2015 at 11:35 am

Thanks for the discussion, Steve.

I think something above clearly embodies "identity politics," the approach to politics of aligning a bunch of things to form an identity in the expectation that the combined strength of the resulting identifying group will make progress toward some political end.

The intent is to push a whole group of things, a party line if you will, without the desire to analyze each thing on its merits.

I bring this up because the whole effort to divest (and in my opinion much of the activity around what was once global freezing, then global warming, now climate change) is fundamentally an activity driven by identity politics. Most people and most other life on the earth will be better off with a warmer temperature, but link it with pollution and the military industrial complex, and it becomes a bad thing. A thing to be fought tooth and nail any way we can. Divesting becomes fighting the monster.

To follow your guide:

1. I agree with the other posters that government officials tell financial professionals how to invest money all the time, and I agree with you that it happens too much. Government officials generally should provide a playing field that predisposes us to advance their agenda, but allows individuals and specific organizations to make their choices.

2. Most effective government action results in short term winners and losers, good action results in more or all long term winners and few or no catastrophic losers. It's not an argument that draws its source from the facts or situation around the divestment or climate change. It's not particularly acute in this case; it's just a normal aspect of government action. It will impact winners and losers less than climate change overall. I can see how someone can try to put you in the teaparty camp for trying to point out this cost of government, perhaps suggesting, with this as an example, that too much government is bad for other reasons as well! For shame!

I agree with you that making these new winners and losers would be a bad thing, but disagree that using this is a fair or sound way to attack the divestment proposal.

3. This is the real point and I agree with you completely. This action wastes our government's precious resources, attention, and credibility on an ineffective genuflection, when we have problems that could actually be addressed, and a desperate need for attention and credibility at the city level of government. It shows that identity politics are more important to them than their sworn responsibilities.



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