An environmental campaign calling on groups to pull their investments from fossil fuel corporations could have a major impact on the industry and carries the potential to spur widespread political and economic stigmatization of big money polluters, a study released this week by Oxford University found.
Pulling from past examples of divestment campaigns such as those against companies in apartheid South Africa, the study argues that while initial financial impacts on fossil fuel corporations may be limited, such campaigns have the ability to create a stigma around industries or particular corporations "that scares away suppliers, subcontractors, potential employees, and customers." This, in turn, impacts the ability of those companies to exert influence over governmental policy and amongst shareholders. In the long run, profits will suffer and companies will change behavior.
And current divestment campaigns such as 350.org's 'Fossil Free' effort are doing just that.
Fossil Free, a quickly growing divestment campaign at the center of the Oxford study, has influenced 41 institutions since 2010 to divest from the fossil fuel industry, and "poses the most far-reaching threat to fossil fuel companies and the vast energy value chain," the report states.
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The movement seems to be taking hold. As the study shows, climate change is having a direct impact on investors across the globe—up to 81% of investors polled—many of whom have been prompted to divest from fossil fuels.
While stigmatization alone is not likely to threaten the overall survival of the fossil fuel industry, it will likely cost fossil fuel companies billions in the long run, according to the study, and will play a major role in any fight to decrease the world's overall dependence on fossil fuels.
As Bill McKibben, the environmental campaigner who leads the 350.org told The Guardian: "This divestment campaign is just one front in the climate fight, but of all the actions people can take to bring about structural change, it's probably the easiest. Severing our ties with the guys digging up the carbon won't bankrupt them--but it will start to politically bankrupt them, and make their job of dominating the planet's politics that much harder."