Fossil Free UK: divesting from reality

Rob Harries

Topics Science & Tech

Fossil Free UK, a campaign group that encourages organisations to divest of financial products tied to the fossil-fuel industry, announced victory this week following the promise of Oxford City Council to follow an ‘ethical investment’ policy.

The council decided that it will ‘not knowingly invest directly in businesses whose activities and practices pose a risk of serious harm to individuals or groups’. These restrictions apply to companies which engage in ‘human-rights abuse’, ‘socially harmful activities’ and ‘environmentally harmful activities’.

Campaigning for a divestment in fossil fuels is ridiculous, considering how interrelated the modern industrial economy is with energy production. There is no economic activity or money in existence that doesn’t bare the supposed stain of fossil fuels. Not only is every social and economic activity in modern society powered by burning fossil fuels – these things rely on one another for their existence.

The great gains in productivity and the goods and services surpluses society has enjoyed since the Industrial Revolution have been generated by burning fossil fuels to power economic life. Food is much cheaper today due to technologies that are powered by fossil fuels; the electricity that powers the Fossil Free UK website exists because burning fossil-fuel-generated energy is so abundant that it can be used for non-essential social and economic activities. Theatres, art galleries and even ‘ethical businesses’ live off the energy surplus and profit made from an economy powered by the highly effective burning of fossil fuels. Renewable energy, on the other hand, is not yet feasible on a mass scale, and may never be.

Fossil fuels are central to our economies not because they hold shadowy sway in the corridors of power, but because we, the people (pejoratively known as the market), want and need the energy they produce. Shifting millions from an oil company into an ‘ethical’ business does not remove that money’s use or reliance on fossil-fuel energy. In the end, the only thing Oxford City Council is divesting from is reality.

Rob Harries is a writer and researcher based in London.

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Topics Science & Tech


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