People are Taking Their Money Out of Fossil Fuels in the Divestment Movement

Reader Contribution by Kayla Matthews
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In societies around the world, people band together to stand up for what they believe in. They know there’s power in numbers.

Even better, the broad reach of social media enables activists to quickly and effectively distribute messages. The fossil fuels divestment movement is gaining momentum. Let’s take a look at what it involves.

What Is Divestment?

Divestment happens when people get rid of stocks, bonds or investments connected with companies that individuals think are ethical or morally questionable. You can think of it as the opposite of investment. Divestment and disinvestment are often interchangeable terms that mean the same thing. 

How Do Activists Want to Impact Fossil Fuel Use?

The people taking part in the divestment of fossil fuels cease investment activities with associated companies. They hope this action creates a stigma around the fossil fuel industry, disintegrating its original appeal.

Some who support the fossil fuel divestment movement only stop investing as a show of symbolism. If working towards reduced dependence on fossil fuels is essential, it doesn’t make sense to hold investments that directly link to companies that rely on them.

People believe divestment could make companies realize that promoting fossil fuel use is no longer financially viable. If that happens, entities may put higher investments into renewables instead.

During a 2015 interview, Bill Gates claimed divestment alone is not a solution, because not enough people have stocks associated with fossil fuels. Gates suggested movement broaden its message to support researching and developing new energy options. It seems most people on board with the cause have done just that.

How Do Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaigns Work?

People can take part in fossil fuel divestment campaigns in a variety of ways. One of the most common options is for divestment-focused groups to target the offensive oil and gas companies. They pick businesses based on the carbon emissions embedded in their reserves.

Another tactic is to urge institutions to divest from fossil-fuel related companies. For example, many universities rely on support from fossil fuel companies to keep operating, but that’s starting to change. In mid-September 2019, the University of California educational system announced it would divest $83 billion from fossil fuel company-based endowment and pension funds, both worth billions.

A representative from the University of California said the organization decided to continue its fossil fuel investments posed a financial risk, and more appealing opportunities exist in renewables. Many other institutions are following California’s lead, getting on board with the idea.

What Are the Effects of the Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement So Far?

It’s difficult to calculate the total number of people taking part in this growing divestment of fossil fuels. However, 180 institutional investors committed to cutting fossil fuels from their portfolios in 2014. Now, the number exceeds 1,100.

Organizations often keep a tally of the total amounts divested so far. According to a September 2019 report, people have committed to divest $11 trillion from fossil fuels. The movement is quickly picking up momentum.

It confirmed that, although it took two years for the first $2 trillion of divestment to happen, the most recent $2 trillion occurred in only six months. People no longer see this kind of divestment as a niche idea.

Another positive effect of this movement is that there’s seemingly no limit to getting involved. For example, New York City made history by pledging it would divest from fossil fuel owners by 2022 (read the ICLEI case study to see how the City is doing it). This decision is particularly significant considering the city has the nation’s largest municipal pension system, controlling $194 billion in investments.

In 2018, Ireland made a historic move by voting to become the first country to divest public funds from fossil fuels.

The advocacy for this issue is active down to the local level. Divestment supporters in San Francisco recently staged a traffic-blocking protest in a financial district to urge banks to divest from fossil fuels.

An Exciting Way to Take a Stand

People often talk about “voting with their wallets.” They purposefully decide not to buy from companies involved in practices they’re against. The support of fossil fuel divestment is another way to show support.

Even if individuals don’t have fossil fuel investments, they can collaborate to put pressure on the companies or organizations that do. This kind of conscious action could make affected parties realize renewable energy is the way of the future.


Kayla Matthews has been writing about healthy living for several years and is proud to be a featured writer on a number of inspiring health sites, including Mother Earth News. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+, Facebook and Twitter and check out her most recent posts on Read all of Kayla’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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