Editorial: More divestment due diligence needed

Recent word from Divest UBC that support is growing for its push to persuade the university to end its investment in fossil fuel companies should generate more than applause from oil industry opponents.

It should generate efforts from all sides in the climate change debate to gather the facts to help companies that source, develop and market fossil fuels improve their environmental performance.

Merely ramping up divestment rhetoric won’t change anything because global economies run on fossil fuels and will for the foreseeable future.

They currently meet more than 80% of primary global energy demand, and while the International Energy Agency forecasts that renewable sources of energy will continue to play a bigger role in servicing that demand, it points out that 25 years down the road fossil fuels will still account for approximately 75%.

The Divest UBC press release maintains that if the university’s $1.1 billion endowment fund were divested of fossil fuels, it “would send a strong message about the urgency of addressing climate change.”

But while student and faculty-driven divestment initiatives have thus far taken root in 30 Canadian universities, far less initiative on those campuses has been applied to finding practical ways to develop bridge technologies to replace fossil fuels in transportation and other global economy fundamentals. As a recent Business Council of British Columbia paper noted, the global energy system, based on tens of trillions of dollars of embedded capital, is far more complex than environmental advocacy groups would have people believe. In short: it’s not going to change overnight.

Divestment cheerleaders might be adept at turning up the political volume in the media and elsewhere, but radically retooling the world’s energy landscape will require far more than noise. It will require objectively weighing the pros and cons of all sides in the debate so that the regulatory and technological changes that will make a real difference can be implemented.

Continuing to politicize the issue does nothing to achieve that.