By Larry Coble, Chicago 350
Opposition to Fossil Fuel divestment campaigns developed a new front in April of 2015. In an effort to delegitimize groups such as those affiliated with 350.org on college campuses and active in American cities seeking the elimination of fossil fuel assets from university endowments, city operational budgets, and municipal and state pension funds respectively, the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) launched a multi-faceted project to blunt the momentum of the divestiture movement in the United States.1
Over the last three years, the IPAA has hired consulting firms; authorized surveys designed to “guide” pensioners into an answer the survey creators (and the IPAA) desire; employed credentialed academics to produce white papers with arguments designed to convince fiduciaries of the illegitimate aims of divestment campaigners; engaged and disseminated to willing writers and publications information and arguments to be included in editorials and articles often disguised as legitimate journalism; deployed think tanks and their employees to argue against and delegitimize the case for divestment.
Having launched the above known and varied strategies for diminishing the effectiveness or outright defeating the divestment movement, the IPAA clearly intends to fund and marshal a number of companies, political operatives, and supporting organizations to derail the divestment movement before it gains further strength.
At this time, the messaging strategy of the IPAA deploys two main arguments aimed at two audiences:
Audience 1: Financial and technical arguments directed at fiduciaries and fund managers.
Audience 2: Emotional, fear based arguments targeted at pensioners, and the general public, regarding future financial well-being due to divestiture.
Astro-Turf and the Independent Petroleum Association of America(IPAA)
During the 1990’s, authors John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton documented the rise of Astro-turf organizing developed by public relations firms. In their 1995 book, Toxic Sludge is Good for You!, subtitled Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry, the authors outlined the efforts of paid public relations professionals to direct what appears like a “grass roots” endeavor designed to deflect, discourage, and defeat real grass roots activists’ efforts to influence public opinion and shift policies enacted by various levels of government.2 The professional PR representatives appear to be activists or objective experts, but are actually representatives of the industry potentially affected by an alteration of governmental policy. The strategy developed by the IPAA and their hired consulting firms seems to be following a model similar to the version as outlined by Stauber and Rampton while also clearly and openly engaging in a public relations campaign by hiring academics to create jargon laced “White Papers” replete with complex financial arguments designed to mislead fiduciaries and establish credibility in the general public.3
In the final pages of this paper, a case study is presented, discussing the approach of the IPAA to marshal interested groups and individuals through the Divestment Facts platform to successfully defeat the divestment campaign on the University of Denver campus.4 The methods utilized by the IPAA often mirror those outlined by Rampton and Stauber in Toxic Sludge is Good for You.
As developments occur in the divestment movement, the IPAA and the public relations companies they have retained will assuredly deploy further, yet to be revealed strategies and tactics in reaction, creating obstacles and challenges for divestment campaigns.
Progenitor and Funder
Trade Group: Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA)
The Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) is an industry trade group consisting of smaller miners of oil and natural gas, producing 54% of oil and 85% of natural gas in the United States.5 According to the associations website, the membership can be family owned or publicly traded and are typically tied to state based trade associations such as the Illinois Oil and Gas Association, Colorado Oil and Gas Association etc. cooperating with this larger umbrella group known as the IPAA.6 There is a certain amount of difficulty in discovering the members and funders on the trade group’s website, but the energy education portion of the website offers some insight into the supporters of the groups “educational” efforts. For example, oil giants Chevron, Exxon Mobil, and Shell are listed as major supporters of the IPAA.7 Here is the link:
Based in Washington, D.C., the IPAA lobbies Federal Government institutions such as Congress, presidential administrations and regulatory agencies. The association has been around since 1929 and was created during a meeting originally called by President Herbert Hoover regarding the preservation, development, mining, and maintenance of America’s oil resources.8
The IPAA launched http://divestmentfacts.com as a public relations project to combat the growing divestment movement on college campuses and in municipalities.
Beyond the website, the IPAA has developed a Facebook presence, https://www.facebook.com/Divestment-Facts-441101512732722/, and a Twitter account, https://twitter.com/@DivestmentFacts, to further disseminate misinformation regarding the ineffectiveness of divestment in halting climate change or affecting the various fossil fuel companies bottom lines.
To increase the credibility of the oil and gas producers public relations project, the IPAA has hired FTI Consulting and Compass Lexecon to conduct research and create “fact based” documents supporting their assertions that divestment is a financially losing proposition. The papers produced by the project seek to influence fiduciaries charged with maintaining the financial health of pension funds, financial management companies offering investment funds and services, foundations investing in financial instruments, and other interested parties with a responsibility to create sustainable income for various institutions. The reports listed on the project’s website outline various estimated costs of divesting from fossil fuel assets for pension funds, endowments, foundations, colleges and universities.
Designed as a public relations information clearinghouse, http://divestmentfacts.com provides the IPAA with an organizing center for disseminating information to the public and institutions in their campaign to delegitimize the fossil fuel divestment movement. DivestmentFacts.com explains the organization’s purpose:
This site, brought to you by the Independent Petroleum Association of America(IPAA), is part of a broader outreach campaign dedicated to educating the public and institutions alike on the facts about divestment.9
As shall be demonstrated later in this paper, the reports created by the IPAA’s academics assert certain costs of divesting, but fail to acknowledge the risks of near- and longer-term losses to pension funds and endowments by not following the course of divestment.
The academics sum up their arguments against divestiture in the paragraph below:
Universities and experts across the country agree that the costs associated with divestment are likely to be enormous, resulting in the displacement of billions annually from school endowments, hundreds of millions in new compliance and management fees, and new threats to the financial well-being of institutions and future generations of students – all while having no tangible impact on the companies targeted by this campaign.10
The academics engaged by the IPAA and cited on Divestment Facts.org argue losses accruing to the university endowments due to the selling off of fossil fuel assets will be significant. The IPAA and their academic advocates mention a whole raft of costs related to and incurred through the process of divestment. Sometimes described as Frictional Costs, these transaction and management fees, the academics argue, will sap the endowments of a significant percentage of the total value over a 20-year period.11 Basically, the academics and consulting firms are enlisted to instill fear and uncertainty into fiduciaries by falsely advocating that losses from divesting will be devastating, but without at all acknowledging the high probablility of losses incurred by remaining in fossil fuels as the world decarbonizes over the next 20 years. The papers written and published on Divestment Facts purposely fail to illustrate the complete picture by ignoring the issue of the Carbon Bubble. 12 13
Fossil Fuel Investment: The Big Picture
Economists with a broader perspective predict fossil fuel assets will be devalued and become stranded by an inevitable shift to a renewable energy economy. 14As the “Stranded Assets” become worthless and the “Carbon Bubble” bursts, investors will rush to the exits.15 In 2018, The Economist quoted Mark Lewis of Barclays,
if measures to stop global warming are fully implemented, oil-company revenues could fall by more than $22trn over the next 25 years, more than twice the predicted decline for the gas and coal industries combined.16
Beyond the above regulatory concerns, researchers have recently analyzed the future of fossil fuel assets in relation to the rapid development and viability of clean energy technologies, stipulating,
today a group of scientists and analysts from Cambridge, Nijmegen, Macao and the Open University take that warning a step further by arguing that these assets are destined to be stranded regardless of official policies to discourage the use of fossil fuels because clean energy technologies are now developing so rapidly that those polluting assets will be worthless in any case.17
The for-hire academics do not address the fiscal consequences of a fossil-fuel assets bubble and the potential fiscal losses sustained by endowments and pension funds holding onto, at first, devalued and later, worthless funds. In Nature Climate Change, Academics from several universities have projected losses of $1-4 trillion due to current clean energy adoption trends. Future regulation of oil, coal, and gas utilization will only hasten the crash of fossil fuel markets and the stranding of assets, leading to an economic crisis similar to the financial crash of 2007-200818, 19
Fossil fuel divestment, conversely, helps protect the bottom line of pensioners, taxpayers, endowments, foundations, and other stakeholders by emphasizing the long-term risks of holding onto fossil fuel assets.20 With 80% of fossil fuel companies’ in-ground assets likely being unburnable due to the carbon budget, divestment campaigns are urging fiduciaries to think about the long-range viability of various financial instruments designed to operate in perpetuity.21, 22, 23
The carbon budget is the estimated amount of carbon dioxide the world can emit while still having a likely chance of limiting global temperature rise to 2C above pre-industrial levels. PCC AR5 summarizes the scientific literature and estimates that cumulative carbon dioxide emissions related to human activities need to be limited to 1 trillion tonnes C (1000 PgC) since the beginning of the industrial revolution if we are to have a likely chance of limiting warming to 2°C. This is “our carbon budget” – the same concept as a checking account.24,25
Divestment campaigners are working toward the goal of protecting the environment, keeping the world within the carbon budget as well as advocating for sustainable investments of universities, foundations, and federal, state, and municipal governments against the losses likely to occur due to future asset devaluations in the fossil fuel industry.
The reports on DivestmentFacts.org deploy financial jargon while refusing to acknowledge the possibility of a Carbon Bubble and stranded assets. While each report describes the difficulties of unwinding the assets from investments, the authors patently ignore the perils of holding onto fossil-fuel assets. In order to preserve a livable planet, societies across the globe will be required to shift from an economy powered by coal, oil, and gas to a civilization driven by renewable energy. As previously cited in this paper, fossil fuel stocks and bonds will become increasingly less valuable, moving toward worthlessness prior to 2035.26, 27 Despite all the protestations of executives from the fossil fuel industry, the shift will occur, is inexorable, and is already occurring with alacrity across much of the planet. The rapid shift toward Electric Vehicles (EV’s) alone will drive the oil industry toward a decrease in market share for fuel related products and a resultant crash in oil price.28
While fossil fuel company executives assert the financial value of dirty energy will be maintained, they issue such declarations against a growing tide of evidence and an ever-quickening shift to wind, solar, geothermal, and other renewable forms of energy. In 2014 the executives of Exxon Mobil issued a report on their investments and assets in fossil fuels. The report,
acknowledges the need to adopt policies to address climate change. But it concludes that because oil and gas are so critical to global development and economic growth, governments are “highly unlikely” to adopt policies that cut emissions so sharply that fossil fuel consumption would be severely restricted.29
While Exxon, and oil companies in general, may assert the primacy of oil and gas as drivers of economies across the globe, the reality of climate change will propel an ever-quickening shift to renewable energy sources and diminishing returns on fossil fuel investments over the next decade.30
Economic Reality vs. Presidential Influence
American presidents often provide leadership and vision toward a future course for the country. However, the Chief Executive cannot easily fight the economic momentum of a changing energy landscape. 31 Even with the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, certain promises such as the revival of coal will be difficult to fulfill with most Appalachian reserves already depleted and the cost of accessing other seams making coal more expensive than natural gas, wind, and solar for power generation.32 And now wind and solar are proving to be competitive with or cheaper than natural gas for power generation.33 The trend line of renewables dropping in cost will only continue and make coal and natural gas quickly unviable for power generation in comparison to wind and solar combined with battery storage technology. According to Morgan Stanley, wind and solar are projected to be the cheapest forms of power generation by 2020.34
Beyond the difficulty of reviving coal, the new President may find it more problematic to opt out of the COP21 agreements. Signatories must wait 3 years before informing fellow member states of withdrawal and a one year period before the actual cancellation of a country’s participation in the agreement.35
A Trump administration is certainly a global liability. The President busily stocked his administration with fossil fuel executives, opponents of environmental regulations, and lobbyists, such as former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson of Exxon/Mobil, Scott Pruitt, the anti-environmental AG from Oklahoma formerly head of the EPA, now replaced by a coal lobbyist, and Ryan Zinke, the head of the Department of the Interior. Trump can repeal many of the EPA regulations written through executive orders, and he has shown outright hostility to the Obama Clean Power Plan. Neverthless, he may be hindered from completely destroying the regulations through lawsuits brought by states such as California or New York.36, 37,38
Through various state lawsuits, he may be forced to follow and enforce the provisions in the existing laws already long codified. Politicians in California, most notably Governor Jerry Brown, have vowed to fight the Trump administration on many fronts, including the environment and climate change.39 If Trump can’t scrap current laws or regulations, he will certainly tie them up in administrative procedure, water them down, or delay enforcement while the courts begin hearing the suits launched by corporations and states opposed to the regulations and limits on carbon emissions. 40, 41 At this time, environmental organizations are fighting a rear-guard defense of long enacted regulations and laws, trying to blunt the assault not only on climate, but on basic environmental issues such as clean air and water protections.42EPA administrator Pruitt, and now his successor, have seen many of their actions challenged and overturned in various court decisions.43
While the IPAA urges endowments and pension fiduciaries to maintain their current holdings, momentum gathers toward a fossil-free future with wind and solar energy sources gaining traction and dropping in cost per megawatt or battery technology falling in overall cost. 44,45 The IPAA would like the fiduciaries to pay attention to the left hand while the right hand quickly attempts to hide the facts through sophisticated public relations campaigns and specious argumentation. They seek to sow doubt and stave off a future of diminished value of their in-ground fossil fuel, production, transportation, and refining assets and the threats to their potential profits.46, 47 The collective holdings of fossil fuel companies will continue to become further devalued as populations on the planet continue to awaken to the disastrous consequences of heating up the planet through the burning of fossil fuels. While the United States federal government may backslide on promises to shift toward a sustainable energy economy, American cities and states have pledged to honor their commitments to COP21.48 As other nations continue implementing solutions to the climate crisis, the U. S. under Trump may be in danger of being saddled with the energy technologies of the 19thand 20th centuries while the rest of the world accelerates the transition. Delaying the switch to renewable technology in the energy sector may hinder the United States economically. As noted in the Financial Times,
In the rest of the world, however, the future of green power appears assured. So much so that an industry that has spent years on the defensive is beginning to show a rising sense of confidence. “Fossil fuels have lost,” says Eddie O’Connor, chief executive of Ireland’s Mainstream Renewable Power. “The rest of the world just doesn’t know it yet.”49
China and India are rapidly transitioning to clean energy and building the manufacturing and economic powerhouses of the 21stcentury. 50 Bloomberg reported on India’s progress in December, 2017.
In a bid to exceed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s climate pledges, India announced that it will tender enough renewable energy projects over the next three years to surpass 200 gigawatts of green capacity build by 2022.51
With renewable energy targets second only to those set by the government of China, India has a long way to go from a current base of 60 gigawatts to reach its ambition of 175 gigawatts in five years. The South Asian nations needs to expand its current solar capacity seven-fold to reach the 100 gigawatts by 2022. It would have to double wind installations to touch 60 gigawatts over the same period.52
As the Trump administration threatens to roll back climate fighting initiatives such as the Clean Power Plan, China, India and the European Union move forward with plans to transition from fossil fuel infrastructures and replace power generation and transportation systems with climate-change mitigating green technology.53
While the IPAA and their mercenary academics contend carbon fuel related assets will not face devaluation, investment firms such as Citi, HSBC and Goldman Sachs offer cogent warnings to investors regarding the dangers of maintaining financial securities with fossil fuel companies. In a paper titled The Low Carbon Economy, Goldman Sachs describes the oncoming growth of 4 low carbon technologies (LED’s, On-Shore Wind, Solar PV and Hybrids and EV’s) with the potential to displace a significant portion of the energy sector with more sustainable options over the 2015-2025 period. 54
Meanwhile, HSBC, in a white paper titled Stranded Assets, What’s Next from April 15, 2016, warned of the issue regarding stranding of fossil fuel infrastructure and in-ground assets. The document further advises on the growing risks to investors of fossil fuel use curbed by regulations and the costs of not reconsidering investments in fossil fuel stocks and bonds. 55
Beyond the above investment firms, Citigroup released Energy Darwinism: Evolution of the Energy Industryfrom their Global Perspectives and Solutions department. The document outlines the ongoing and prospective shifts in the energy sector and the paper offers the following conclusion:
In summary, we believe that the global energy mix is shifting more rapidly than is widely appreciated, and most importantly that consumers face economically viable choices and alternatives in the coming years which were not foreseen 5 years ago. Accordingly, we believe that long-term investment into some conventional fuels must be considered in the context of at worst the risk of substitution, or more likely lower demand than might otherwise be expected, with implications on prices and hence returns of those upstream projects. Moreover, the further up the cost curve conventional fuels are, the higher these risks associated with that investment. Investing in a project with an assumed 25-year life, when new technologies will be competing with that fuel in the first quarter of that project’s life entails significantly more risk than we believe is widely recognized. There will always be more subjective choice factors involved such as fuel diversity and energy independence that may offset cold, hard economics, but investors, companies and governments must consider the sea change that we believe is only just beginning.56
Given that the analyses of the above financial firms are never referenced or considered by the IPAA and their academics from Compass Lexecon, the merits of the IPAA’s argument for continuing investments in fossil fuels must be viewed with healthy skepticism. The advice to maintain course so as not to incur “Frictional Costs” must be understood as flawed and largely without merit in the long term, especially in light of the continuing evolution of the energy sector toward renewable sources and the potential losses of not divesting from the fossil fuel sector as dirty fuels become devalued and later, worthless.57 Governments and endowments must begin to seriously consider the consequences of maintaining current investments in fossil fuels.58 Once the shift from dirty fuels to clean energy is fully understood in the marketplace, asset managers will grasp the financial logic of divestiture and begin the process of eliminating stocks and bonds and other investments from companies exploring for, mining, and burning carbon-based fuels.59
Strategic Communication: Public Relations and Sophisticated Propaganda
FTI and Compass Lexecon consulting corporations are heavy hitters in the field of strategic communications. Both firms are global in scope with offices all over the world, and strategically located in capitals and important financial and business hubs throughout the U.S.
FTI and Compass Lexecon are hired to “throw” sand into the gears of the divestment movement by sowing doubt, creating inertia among decision makers, or establishing an atmosphere for decision makers to reach conclusions favorable to their client’s interests.
Often consulting and public relations firms in the business of strategic communications create Astro-Turf campaigns. Astro-turf is the opposite of grass roots. They are created to appear organic and locally formed, but are actually directed by PR firms at the behest of and paid for by industry groups. Stauber and Rampton thoroughly profile such Astro-turf organization in Toxic Sludge is Good for You. In one example, cited in their book about a phony environmental organization, they noted,
Someone looking at the logo of the National Wetlands Coalition, which features a duck flying over a marsh, would have no clue that the coalition is made up mainly of oil drillers, developers and gas companies […] Today inventing phony citizen groups is an industry in its own right [… ] Public relations specialists have discovered countless ways to create at least the illusion of citizen involvement.”60
The IPAA, FTI, and Compass Lexecon or another now unknown public relations firm will no doubt continue to activate pensioners and other stakeholders in the fight, especially to pressure fiduciaries at all levels of government to resist climate activists agitating for divestment.61 Seeking to sow doubt in fiduciaries and instill inertia, the current and forthcoming Astro-turf campaign(s) will be designed to make fiduciaries and investment managers think extensively about the risks, and eventually conclude divestment is a losing proposition for pensioners.
Beyond the inertia, the consultancies and PR operatives will seek to create fear in elected officials. Politicians may feel pressured by potential electoral losses, especially by challengers funded by unions. In Chicago, many aldermanic candidates receive campaign contributions from a wide range of unions and related union interests.62 Anti-divestment forces may attempt to activate pensioners and other interested parties to begin threatening to vote against office holders in future elections.62 In Chicago and other major municipalities with extensive public sector unions, Astro-turf campaigns may prove problematic as city pensioners often belong to unions and many of the union members are vested in affected pension funds.63
FTI describes their mission as follows,
FTI Consulting is an independent global business advisory firm dedicated to helping organizations manage change, mitigate risk and resolve disputes: financial, legal, operational, political & regulatory, reputational and transactional. Individually, each practice is a leader in its specific field, staffed with experts recognized for the depth of their knowledge and a track record of making an impact. Collectively, FTI Consulting offers a comprehensive suite of services designed to assist clients across the business cycle – from proactive risk management to the ability to respond rapidly to unexpected events and dynamic environments.64
On FTI’s website for their Strategic Communications Division, the company portrays its capabilities thus:
We combine global reach with local knowledge to help client management teams and Boards of Directors seize opportunities, manage crises, navigate market disruptions, articulate their brand, stake a competitive position, and preserve their permission to operate. Drawing upon our unrivaled depth of industry expertise and interdisciplinary experience and using our broad network of relationships with key influencers, we help clients clarify, persuade and ensure that the right message reaches the right audience at the right time. 65
The key phrase from above is “preserve their permission to operate.” While one of the main efforts of the divestment movement is removing the social license of fossil fuel producers to continually mine and burn environmentally-destructive energy resources, companies like FTI are hired to protect that license. The divestment movement is also seeking to stigmatize the fossil fuel industry and diminish the industry’s continuing influence over political institutions. With the above mission as motivation, the divestment movement has successfully advocated across the world for divestment and changed the thinking of policy makers, fiduciaries and citizenry as a whole, creating the space for $6.15 Trillion in divestment commitments as of June 27th, 2018.66
Whether in litigation, public relations operations, or public policy, FTI touts their ability to employ myriad strategies for creating “positive” outcomes and enhanced profitability for their clients. Skilled in creating content designed to convince a strategically selected audience to favor their clients’ position, FTI will probably continue to devise strategies and tactics in the fight against organizations such as 350.org. In their public relations efforts to win the divestment debate and defeat divestiture campaigns, FTI, on behalf of the IPAA, recruits fiduciaries, investment managers, pensioners, and the general public to help the fossil-fuel industry “preserve [its] permission to operate.”
FTI has been engaged, in one strategic aspect, to create doubt and opposition in pensioners through push polling. Having created a series of poll questions and by convincing 791 pensioners to participate in an online survey, FTI disseminated questions designed to guide the survey participants to conclude divestment activists are merely motivated by personal or political reasons, and are acting against the pension holders’ financial interests.67
By describing the incentive for climate activists as personal or political, such as in question 21, the survey implies a certain nebulous motivation and shallowness to the activist’s arguments for divestment along with a cavalier attitude toward the pensioners’ future welfare.
While creating the survey, FTI’s writers purposely downplayed the moral arguments against the burning of fossil fuels. Never were the following questions asked: If you knew that the continued burning of fossil fuels would place the planet at risk for catastrophe, would you support a transition to a clean energy economy? Or, if you understood the continued burning of fossil fuels would imperil the planet’s habitability for your children and grandchildren, would you support the switch to wind, solar, electric vehicles and the already viable industrial infrastructure to support those technologies? And if you understood, as a consequence of the transition to clean energy technologies, the economic viability of fossil fuel assets as investments would be seriously diminished, would you support divestment of the same from your pension funds? As demonstrated, push polls can obviously be written to lead participants and elicit responses desired by the client.
Beyond the moral argument, FTI intentionally omitted the impending issue of carbon assets being devalued due to their becoming worthless, especially once a carbon tax is instituted or state or federal subsidies propping up fossil fuel firms are removed through legislative action. It is very likely that the value of fossil fuel assets and infrastructure will collide with renewables gaining further market share, becoming price competitive, and eventually undercutting the pricing advantage of fossil fuels by becoming lower cost and overall cleaner alternatives.68 As a matter of fact, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have estimated wind and solar are projected to become less expensive for power generation than natural gas by 2020.69, 70 According to the Lazard Investments report Levelized Cost of Energy 2017, wind and solar are already at parity with natural gas for power generation.71 In the central region of the United States, unsubsidized wind is $30/MWh compared to the lowest priced natural gas energy generation technology at $40/MWh in the same geographic area.72
The previously dominant energy source, coal, for electricity production has also lost market share over the past decade, first to natural gas and now to wind and solar. Energy generation plants burning coal to create electricity have suffered closure after closure. From 2006 to 2017, 531 coal units representing 55.6GW of power generation have been shuttered.73 The momentum for discontinuing coal plants will continue unless coal technology and extraction receive a whole range of costly subsidies or mandates from President Trump to prop up the industry.74 Electricity generation from coal as market share has dropped from 45% in 2009 to only 30% in 2017, with further declines expected in the years ahead.75 At least 25 GW of coal plant retirements have been announced to retire over the next 3 years alone with more surely to follow.76
Surveys can be constructed to lead respondents to a particular conclusion. This poll, while seemingly scientific, was created to yield the results the writers wanted to achieve. In their press release, the Strategic Communications team admit to this as a tactic,
As respondents were exposed to arguments both in support of oil and gas divestment and opposed to it, opposition continued to grow throughout. Opposition levels reached a high‐point of 75 percent during the course of the survey, with participants finding particularly persuasive the argument that divesting from oil and natural gas firms makes little sense so long as we continue to consume the products they produce as part of our everyday lives.77
The FTI survey of pensioners is essentially a propaganda exercise designed to engineer public opinion and consent for, in this case, a “business as usual” environment for fossil fuel investments. Excluding pertinent questions about the long-term viability of fossil fuel investments, the survey is fundamentally specious. Yet, it is instructive. The survey reveals the strategy of the writers and the IPAA to mislead and confuse participants, and guide them to a predetermined conclusion based on fear of change.
Below are 3 documents created by FTI regarding divestment.
Here is a press release touting the organization’s poll conducted by interviewing nearly 800 pensioners:
Here is the memo summarizing the poll of pensioners:
Here are the actual polling questions:
Unfortunately, the above link for the actual survey questions and results is broken. A copy is available through Chicago350.
Here is the location of the blog report for the pension fund survey: http://divestmentfacts.com/new-survey-vast-majority-pension-fund-beneficiaries-oppose-fossil-fuel-divestment/
The other known organization hired by the IPAA is Compass Lexecon. Their company website offers an explanation regarding company capabilities and knowledge about the energy sector:
Compass Lexecon has developed a deep knowledge of the economics and institutional structures of all segments of the energy industry. We have completed numerous economic studies on issues related to competition, pricing, and the impact of regulation. Our strength lies within our teams of experts with differing backgrounds, creating extensive familiarity with domestic and global energy markets. This depth of experience, combined with our staff’s strong academic training, provides clients in business and government with high-quality analysis and high-value advice and litigation support.
The website continues to explain the company’s expertise:
Because of our intimate knowledge of the energy industry, we ask the right questions, pursue the appropriate analyses, and develop solid conclusions and recommendations that address the challenges and opportunities facing our clients. We combine this with the ability to comprehend and synthesize often-complex issues on the cutting edge of industry transition and to communicate them effectively to both clients and policymakers.78
To design the argument against divestment, Compass Lexecon hired research and policy experts, often with highly credentialed backgrounds, to create research and analytical papers favoring the client’s desired conclusions, lending a level of credibility to their arguments. At this juncture, the academics retained to create the studies have been Dr. Bradford Cornell of California Institute of Technology, Dr. Paul Fischel, former professor at Northwestern University and University of Chicago Law School and Chairman and CEO of Compass Lexecon and Professor Hendrik Bessembinder of Arizona State University and U of Washington. Each report generated by the above academics was released within a short stretch of time: August 2015 – June 2016. Further reports by Fischel and Bessembinder were added in 2017.
The white papers referenced below were created by academics associated with and employed by Compass Lexecon. Devised to depict the downsides of divestment, the documents are targeted at university endowment managers, pension fund fiduciaries, and financial managers.
They can be accessed at the Divestment Facts Home page:
DIVESTMENT CARRIES DIRECT COSTS FOR STUDENTS BY HENDRIK BESSEMBINDER
DIVESTMENT FROM FOSSIL FUELS IS A COSTLY, INEFFECTIVE STRATEGY.
DIVESTMENT WOULD COST HARVARD, YALE, MIT, COLUMBIA, AND NYU A COMBINED $195 MILLION
The reports cited above are heavy in financial jargon, discussing ideas such as frictional costs, risk adjusted shortfall, absolute return asset classes, etc.. They are aimed at fiduciaries with the duty to examine and analyze financial investment options for institutions. Each paper seeks to examine the costs associated with divestment and are submitted to fiduciaries in order to persuade them of the financial hazards of following the course of divestment.
Below are some key quotes from the reports produced by the academics and employees of Compass Lexecon and the IPAA.
FRICTIONAL COSTS OF FOSSIL FUEL DIVESTMENT
June 3, 2015
Quote from Bessembinder
Further, even if divestment sales did have a permanent effect on asset prices, divestment would have accumulative effects that would impose costs on divesting institutions. The first institution to divest would suffer little loss from such permanent price impacts, but subsequent divesting parties would sell at lower and lower prices.79
Basically, Bessembinder advocates a policy of everyone holding on to fossil fuel assets to maintain the overall values for all investors. Essentially espousing a house of cards argument, Bessembinder admits the overall fossil fuel market is so structurally fragile that the wolfish winds of divestment threaten the collapse of the entire edifice. He contends, if institutions begin to sell, then the values of endowments will be diminished as institutions leave the market for these assets.
This seems like an absurd argument for maintaining such investments. If fossil fuel stocks and bonds will become eventually worthless due to the changing landscape of the energy sector and making those changes is required to avoid the worst planetary habitability outcomes for humans due to climate change, why would he advise the holders of such assets to retain them in their endowments or pension funds? The endowments and/or pension funds would suffer financial losses anyway once the bottom drops out of the market, leaving the holders of those assets with the losses. It seems Bessembinder and the oil producers paying him through Compass Lexecon want the institutional investors to take the hit at the end of the fossil fuel era rather than cutting losses while asset prices still have some value. And, as institutional investors typically have monies placed in difficult to unwind financial instruments, the investors would be less able to quickly shift out of the fossil fuel assets once the fossil fuel bubble bursts.
Beyond the house of cards argument, the author basically has created dazzlingly jargon- rich claims of losses due to “Frictional Costs” of divesting. While his assertions may have mathematical validity, his contentions are basically a distraction and an attempt to have fiduciaries become lost in a maze of numbers. He never addresses a key fact regarding the future of fossil fuel utilization for transportation and power generation. The fossil fuel era will come to a close and probably sooner than the oil and gas industry would like to believe.
Bessembinder’s business-as-usual scenario can be refuted with reference to an article in the Financial Times. In a critique of trends current to mid 2017, under the headline, The Big Green Bang: how renewable energy became unstoppable, Pilita Clark reports the already dislocating financial consequences to fossil fuel companies and related firms by the rapid adoption of alternative technologies:
“This clean energy disruption has just started and what is striking is how much of a financial impact it is already having on some companies,” says Per Lekander, a portfolio manager at London’s Lansdowne Partners hedge fund, who has tracked global energy markets for more than 25 years.80
So, while Bessembinder advocates fiduciaries pay attention to the minutiae of minor losses, he mimics a ship captain at sea who sees the tip of the iceberg bobbing above the surface and shouts down at the crew, Oh that. That’s just a little bit of ice. No problem. Full speed ahead! Keep pouring fuel into the engines!
Bessembinder, due to his position as hireling for the IPAA, ignores the larger financial risk of maintaining financial investments in fossil fuels for the imprudent diversion of statistics of the moment. He would have fiduciaries discount the abiding duty of managing a fleet of investments designed to bear returns in perpetuity for the fear of losing in the short-term by selling assets. Ceaselessly maintaining investments in fossil fuels is the equivalent of sighting the iceberg at a distant, holding course and slamming the ship into the hidden vastness beneath the surface, and then being astonished as the vessel begins to take on water.
THE DIVESTMENT PENALTY: ESTIMATING THE COSTS OF FOSSIL FUEL DIVESTMENT TO SELECT UNIVERSITY ENDOWMENTS
August 27, 2015
Cornell contends that,
based on a 50-year history of returns, the study concluded that the reduction in diversification associated with excluding energy securities from an average equity investor’s portfolio would generate shortfalls of 50 basis points per year on a risk-adjusted basis, or 70 basis points per year on a gross basis.4 Over a 50-year time frame, the value of a divested portfolio would be 23 percent lower than a non-divested portfolio.81
Cornell’s argument involves a major and problematic assumption regarding the future. Demand for fossil fuels, while extensive across the globe over the past fifty years, will not remain the same over the next fifty. With the growing momentum toward wind and solar, battery technology for energy storage, and the forthcoming electric vehicle (EV) revolution,82, 83, 84 the utilization of coal and gas for electricity production and of oil for transportation will be increasingly diminished. In fact, the movement away from fossil fuels will reach an economic inflection point sooner than the hired academics understand, creating further incentives for societies to forsake 19thand 20thcentury energy infrastructure and embrace less polluting technologies.85
Beyond the argument involving shifts away from legacy fuels, fiduciaries involved in the management of pension funds and municipal operating budgets understand past performance is not indicative of future returns. Every individual in society hiring a financial adviser has read the fine print, “Past performance does not guarantee future outcomes.”
For the planet to be a sustainable habitat for future generations, reliance on fossil fuels will need to be greatly reduced. Indeed, fossil fuels must be essentially eliminated as an option for powering industry, transportation, and every aspect of the built environment. At the forefront, environmental activists and conscientious politicians understand the dangers of maintaining modern society’s current addiction to fossil fuels. The general public does not lag far behind. As previously cited in this document, reports from Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, the Grantham Institute, HSBC, Lazard, Bloomberg New Energy Finance and countless others all reach the same conclusion: The Renewable Energy economy will disrupt the fossil fuel economy. The only question is How quickly?
Institutional investors should not be betting on the energy economy of the past two centuries. When the shift inevitably occurs, the incumbent technologies and their owners will not fare well financially. The shift will occur much more rapidly than expected. The Rethink X report on Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030 by Stanford academic Tony Seba explains forthcoming rapid shifts in the automobile sector and the implications for the oil industry, fossil fuels generally, and societies as a whole.86 Already, according to Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Lazard, and numerous other investment houses, wind and solar are cheaper than coal and gas for power generation.87,88,89 With the energy and transportation sectors poised to shed the antiquated fuels of the Industrial Revolution, why should fiduciaries adhere to the panicked entreaties of dying industries and temporarily buttress those segments of our economy through ill-fated investment dollars, especially in long term bonds with maturity dates of 5, 10, 15 and even 20 years?90
DIVESTMENT FROM FOSSIL FUELS IS A COSTLY, INEFFECTIVE STRATEGY.
October 3, 2013
Here is a conclusion drawn from Mr. Fischel’s report and listed on divestmentfacts.com:
Using an economic model that tracked the performance of investment portfolios that included energy-related stocks over a 50-year period compared to those that didn’t, the Fischel study finds that portfolios divested of energy equities produced returns 0.7 percentage points lower than ones that invested in energy on an absolute basis.91
Again, the problem with this analysis is Fischel’s focus on past performance. While other investment specialists at MSCI, Impax Mgmt., and the Aperio group have conducted similar historical analyses with results arguing for minimal losses, break even, or advantageous results following divestment, Fischel does not account for the highly likelihood of future of losses incurred by the bursting of the carbon bubble and stranding of assets.92,93, 94 He does not acknowledge the imperative of societies to abandon fossil fuels and the shift already occurring. Fischel does not raise the concept of the eventual displacement of coal, oil, and gas in power generation and transportation, because the topic does not fit into the oil industry’s prerogative of maintaining their business model and profits. He is being paid by the IPAA to create the argument and results desired by his paymasters.
In his more extensive paper, I searched the terms “carbon bubble” and “stranded assets.” The search yielded no reference to either of them.
An example of IPAA’s Astro-turf campaign in action was illustrated in the recent 2017 University of Denver (DU) divestment fight. Divestment Facts.com published a blog post examining the battle to divest the endowment. The blog post can be seen here: http://divestmentfacts.com/reject-350-orgs-shallow-misleading-divestment-campaign-denver-post-columnist-tells-du/
In the campaign to foil the divestment movement on the campus, Divestment Facts and the IPAA deployed “key influencers” such as Simon Lomax of the Independence Institute, a Libertarian think tank funded by the Koch Brothers and other right wing foundations and funders. He works on energy policy for the Institute and was scheduled to present at the September 1st 2016 hearing from an energy industry perspective. His presentation drew heavily from the Divestment Facts papers created by hired academics, Bessembinder, Cornell and Fischel.95 IPAA also employed the testimony of Green Energy advocate Frank Laird from the University of Denver to proclaim,
[Divestment] is not really effective, but I think it can have a negative effect on de-carbonizing the energy systems because, frankly, it’s a distraction from the large and complex task we need to face [emphasis added].96
His statement is found here: http://divestmentfacts.com/industry-academics-experts-agree-du-divestment-distracting/
If Mr. Laird believes the divestment movement lacks effectiveness and distracts from the complex task of de-carbonization, he might want to consult with executives from Shell Oil. In its 2017 Strategic Report, the oil giant enunciated a potential threat to the company’s ability to finance future projects and gain access to capital markets:
Additionally, some groups are pressuring certain investors to divest from fossil fuel companies. If this were to continue, it could have a materially adverse effect on the price of our securities and our ability to access equity capital markets. The World Bank has also announced plans to stop financing upstream oil and gas projects in 2019. Similarly, according to press reports, other financial institutions also appear to be considering limiting their exposure to certain fossil fuel projects. Accordingly, our ability to use financing for future projects may be adversely impacted. This could also adversely impact our potential partners’ ability to finance their portion of costs, either through equity or debt.97
Moreover, as illustrated by the IPAA creating the Divestment Facts website, the oil and gas industry demonstrate their apprehension of losing the PR fight regarding their business model. With the lasting effects of their out-dated model being destructive emissions of CO2, the IPAA and the oil and gas industry at large dread the moment the general public realizes that the damaging consequences of their business outweighs any further benefit.
If the industry actually perceived the divestment movement as harmless and replete with “empty gestures,” the IPAA would not have considered it necessary to invest in the PR battle and seek to alter stakeholders thinking on their activities. As one aspect of an overall strategy to decarbonize the energy and transportation system, the divestment fight has indeed inflicted damage on the reputation of the oil, coal and gas industry. In conjunction with environmental movements seeking to move toward clean energy, the divestment movement complements campaigns such as the Sierra Club’s 100% renewable campaign and Food and Water Watch’s support of U.S. Representatives Tulsi Gabbard’s sponsorship of the Off Fossil Fuels (OFF) Act.
Beyond Laird, the IPAA found a willing advocate in former Denver Post Opinion Editor and current editorialist Vincent Carroll. Emerging from retirement, Mr. Carroll penned an editorial utilizing many of the talking points often promoted by the IPAA during their campaign to discredit the divestment movement. He especially proclaims:
Divestment would be hypocritical and divisive. It would amount to rank moral posturing. It would demonize an industry— and the people who work in it — that remains critical to civilization and whose byproducts are used every hour of every day by nearly every one of us.98
The above statement is an absurdity. Basically, it maintains a fiction, stating, if we as a society are using a set of energy producing technologies and fuels for transportation today, we cannot advocate for a different energy infrastructure for power generation and transportation for tomorrow. His argument promotes a type of static and erroneous thinking about societies. Civilizations constantly evolve and shift, performing a continual dynamism of becoming. His thinking resembles the comical arguments asserted by industries opposed to the shift from horse drawn carriages to automobiles in the early 20th century. Keep buying those buggy whips boys!
Utilizing the energy structures available today, structures created long before most of us were born, does not compel us to keep using them, even if we have been complicit in maintaining them through behavior directed by those existing structures. A past record of using petroleum and gasoline for transportation, coal for power generation, and natural gas for home heating and power generation does not mean we shouldn’t advocate for an energy infrastructure of tomorrow—Solar PV, On-Shore and Off-Shore Wind, EV’s, LED’s, etc.. As citizens, we deserve and should demand a different energy infrastructure to maintain a habitable planet and produce an overall cleaner environment. Changing course is the only moral imperative.
Beyond the absurdity of maintaining a static energy system with its pollution and the inevitability of destroying the planets eco-systems with its waste, Carrol’s support of maintaining a business-as-usual scenario for fossil fuel consumption produces an insufferable burden for future generations saddled with a badly damaged and perhaps, perishing earth. His assertions are the epitome of mindless selfishness with little regard for the future. As David Brower, the former head of the Sierra Club once said, “There is no business to be done on a dead planet.”99
Vincent Carrol’s editorial is here: http://www.denverpost.com/2017/01/07/lets-drop-the-false-morality-tale-in-the-push-for-du-fossil-fuel-divestment/
Interestingly, with talking point regarding fossil fuels providing benefits to societies’ daily activities, Carroll echoes rather closely a question (#60) included in the poll of pensioners conducted by FTI:
The world is dependent on conventional energy supply to fuel and power our everyday lives. Fossil fuels are used to manufacture a multitude of important, everyday products and generate the electricity we need to live our lives. In the developing world, fossil fuel energy is used by many countries to provide their citizens with clean water and basic services. Why would we divest from companies that produce things each and every one of us use each and every day? Is this a compelling argument to oppose divesting from oil and gas companies?100
Besides the implication of societal regression and a Hobbesian dystopia of life lived “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”,101the false premise implies a dearth of alternative methods for generating electricity to manufacture products and meet basic needs. Furthermore, the question was devised to help respondents rationalize their resistance to change. The overall survey was an elaborate push poll with the objective of steering the respondent through an emotional landscape, suggesting a back sliding from modernity and the comforts of modern life.
One of FTI’s strategies listed on their website is to reach out to “key influencers” to persuade the public. One wonders if Victor Carroll is part of FTI’s “broad network of relationships,” among the “key influencers” the corporation pays to craft the façade of a wide spectrum of opposition to divestment. The only linkages currently apparent are the similarity of talking points.
One of the chief tactics public relations firms employ is the illusion of undirected opposition. In other words, they promote the perception in the public of grass-roots resistance springing forth spontaneously and without prompting. The hired operatives present themselves as individuals and interest groups fighting for or against a public policy but actually testify or protest in the interests of an affected industry. The operative’s job is to contribute to an Astro-turf campaign to influence policy makers and the public and make it appear completely organic and home grown. In Rampton and Staubers, Toxic Sludge is Good for You, the writers outlined this industry tactic thoroughly, and the basic strategy is employed by public relations firms today.
In opposition to DU Divest, the groups and individuals were organized and activated by the IPAA while the IPAA itself downplayed their role in the oppositions activities, especially during presentations and argumentation before the University of Denver’s officials as illustrated in the forthcoming pages.
In the age of the Internet, disguising Astro-turf organizing and campaigns proves far more difficult. Yet, individuals lacking knowledge of public relations strategies and tactics might be easily fooled by newspaper editorials, rallies supporting industry objectives, and think tank and academic papers paid for by the industry. Each stratagem is designed to slickly deflect from the real issues confronting citizens, especially the damage done to their lives and well-being by the continued burning of fossil fuels. So, while the Astro-turf organizing efforts of industry have become more transparent, the overall strategy and tactics originally outlined by Rampton and Stauber remain effective nearly thirty years later.
During the PR campaign to fight the divestment movement at DU, the IPAA, through their Divestment Facts platform released a short animated video to YouTube:
Here is the link to the Divestment Facts webpage announcing it to their readership.
On the YouTube site, the IPAA is never mentioned as the producer of the video and many of the claims made in the video are specious. Firstly, the propaganda piece asserts the activists are against energy in general. Only once is the term fossil fuels mentioned. Anyone even remotely familiar with 350.org and the divestiture movement understands the ultimate goal of activists is to have the energy, heating, and transportation sectors transition from dirty energy to clean renewable sources. 350.org and affiliated groups seek to inform the public of the destructive habits and actions of an industry resolved to prioritize profits, greed, and the resultant destruction of ecosystems over the continued habitability of the planet for the current range of biodiversity, including humans.
Once the American public understands the full stakes of continuing the fossil fuel era, the oil, gas, and coal industry will be seen as unacceptable and their old business models will be comprehended as spurious. Having created the Divestment Facts platform as a propaganda outlet, the IPAA and allies desperately fight the inevitable discrediting and demise of their industry.
As a matter of fact, the industry makes great effort to combat the stigmatization. The IPAA and their allies understand public perception is paramount to maintaining their stranglehold over the energy sector. The fossil fuel industry writ large comprehends the battle before them. When the public fully appreciates the breadth of destruction the continued burning of fossil fuels entails, the game is over. The American public and their representatives will grow prohibitively hostile and force the transition to clean energy while destroying the industry’s ability to operate and produce profits for shareholders.
Throughout the IPAA’s Divestment Facts website, the oil and gas industry continually attempt to discredit their opponents. Nearly all of their blog posts stress this issue. Positive public perception of their industry is their life blood. The fossil fuel industry fears the loss of public approval more than anything. Losing consent to operate means the end of traditional energy.
Beyond advocating for 19thand 20thcentury fuels in the video, the narration falsely claims universities divesting from fossil fuels would need to remove funds from all industries remotely connected to current fossil fuel production activities. While the oil and gas industry understand this to be a lie, the divestment movements actually request endowments, municipalities, and pension funds sell off financial assets connected to the top 200 fossil fuel companies, ranked by the amount of Proven Fossil Fuel Reserves on their balance sheets. 102 The fossil fuel industry utilizes this spurious line of argumentation in an attempt to depict the divestment movement as confused and unreasonable, lacking a cogent and cohesive argument, and therefore illegitimate and dangerous to modern standards of living.
Furthermore, the video claims divested fossil fuel stocks will only be purchased by other parties. And an endowment, city operational budget, or pension fund selling the stock will not have any effect on the environment nor will financial harm be done to the company’s bottom line. But this is only one half of the false equation. A central objective of fossil fuel divestment is to bolster the long-term viability of city budgets, pension funds, and university endowments administered in perpetuity. By selling off vulnerable fossil fuel assets, universities protect longstanding investments, and cities and states safeguard taxpayers against losses to pensions and operational budgets. In November 2017, the highly profitable Sovereign Wealth Fund of Norway determined divesting provides financial security due to oil and gas stocks being downgraded to a “speculative grade risk”103 offering the following reasoning:
Instead of correlating with the broader stock market, oil and gas stocks have “decoupled.” So, while the stock market has been rising, oil prices and stocks are declining. And it is the consensus within Norway that the current low oil price environment will continue through 2060.104
So, while other individuals and investors may choose to purchase the risky assets, they will also be buying the ever-growing risk of owning assets likely to be stranded when the carbon bubble bursts. Let them assume the risk. Cities, states, pension funds and endowments should choose more secure investments in sustainable sectors of the economy. In the future, the momentum away from a fossil fuel based economy will sharply increase. Bloomberg suggested that the oil crash may occur as soon as 2023 due to the quickening transition to EV’s and the displacement of oil:
One thing is certain: Whenever the oil crash comes, it will be only the beginning. Every year that follows will bring more electric cars to the road, and less demand for oil. Someone will be left holding the barrel.105
And, as institutional investors typically require more time to unwind investments, the process of divesting should begin now and in earnest.
Below is a series of links to blog posts regarding the DU divestment battle. It shows the amount of close monitoring and direction of the situation by Divestment Facts and the IPAA.
As of January 24th, 2017, the University of Denver’s Board of Trustees has rejected divestment. Below is the blog post from Divestment Facts.
University of Denver Rejects Divestment, Latest in Tide of College Rejections
In the post, Divestment Facts discusses the coalition they brought together to pressure the board to deny the 350 group’s Divest DU’s request to divest the endowment. The coalition marshalled included the following:
- 25 energy worker and industry supporters
- Simon Lomax of Independence Institute (Koch supported think tank) and now with Divestment facts.
- State trade groups: Colorado Oil & Gas Association, the Colorado Petroleum Council, the Colorado Petroleum Association and the Western Energy Alliance
- DU student Scott Albertoni
- Editorialist Vincent Carroll and other reporters
- Heidi Ganahl, recently elected to a statewide seat on the University of Colorado Board of Regents, who highlighted why numerous colleges, including the University of Colorado, have rejected divestment. 106
During the effort to marginalize the divestment campaigners, Divestment Facts held an Energy Forum addressing political leaders in Denver,
Denver Energy Forum: Why Fossil Fuel Divestment is Wrong for Colorado Universities
The forum was hosted by Divestment Facts, a project of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA). Speaking at the event were Heidi Ganahl, University of Colorado Regent-elect; Tracee Bentley, Executive Director of the Colorado Petroleum Council(CPC); DU student Scott Albertoni; and Dr. Chris Fiore, Senior Economist, Compass Lexecon. They spoke to an audience of energy sector workers and industry supporters at the Colorado History Center. 107
In a coordinated effort, the IPAA rallied a diverse range of interests to oppose divestment at the college campus, including students, professors, industry groups, editorialists and think tanks. They worked on this for several months to blunt the efforts of Divest DU and 350.org. On the IPAA Divestment Facts website, the industry front groups provided a signup form for interested individuals and groups to participate in opposition to DU Divest and 350.org. 108
Below is a link to a letter written to the University of Denver’s task force established to examine the merits of divestment. Composed and signed by members of four industry trade groups, the letter excoriates the divestment movement at DU as being solely directed by 350.org nationally and not driven by local student activists, calling the movement “a costly political stunt.”109
Over the course of the last three years plus, the IPAA has continued to fight fossil fuel divestment movements on college campuses and battles to divest pension funds and operational budgets on city and state levels. The trade association should be expected to continue their efforts to enlist pensioners, news and editorial websites amenable to their viewpoint and participating in the dissemination of their propaganda against divestment. They will likely target specific high-profile divestment campaigns in cities and universities. Once the IPAA learns of divestment activities occurring in a university or municipality, the industry trade group will assuredly shepherd interested parties and begin the lobbying process, trying to convince elected officials, fiduciaries and pensioners in highly coordinated opposition. 110
In 350’s efforts to have cities and states divest operating budgets and pension funds from fossil fuel stocks and bonds, we expected and have seen a similar opposition form, including various individuals and groups fashioned together into a coalition by the IPAA, the American Petroleum Institute or other industry trade organizations and lobbyists.
In Chicago350’s efforts to have the city of Chicago divest pension funds and the operating budget, the known opposition has mainly arisen from the Building Trades. Many of the member unions of the 25-union organization maintain occupations in the fossil fuel industry. The leadership of the Building Trades still falsely believe the environmental movement in general and divestment actions in specific belong in the realm of social issues. At this time, the Building Trades have yet to comprehend the dire financial risk of maintaining investments in the fossil fuel sector. While the Trade Unions understand the market share for renewable energy is growing, they do not yet feel the radical shift happening and the rapidity in the transformation of the power generation and transportation sectors. Unfortunately, history has shown many incumbent technologies prove obsolete sooner than thought and workers involved in the production or delivery of older technologies often bear the financial brunt of the outmoded technologies demise.111, 112 The earth shifts beneath their feet and those workers only peer downward at the open air shortly before plunging into unemployment and the ensuing uncertainty of future financial prospects.
In conclusion, the IPAA and the organizations and individuals employed and deployed by the oil industry trade group will continue to fight rear guard actions against the divestment movement. With the forthcoming demise of the fossil fuel industry due to the required and inevitable shift to clean energy technology, the IPAA and the fossil fuel industry will collectively seek to delay the transition through a number of means, typically by public relations campaigns to dismiss newer technologies as insufficient and opposition groups as fringe and out of touch with mainstream society. Secondly, the industry will attempt to solidify their current position via electoral campaign activities, especially through the legalized bribery of financial contributions to candidates, purchasing the legislating power of political votes. In the end, the fossil fuel industry’s efforts will fail, but the determinative questions remain: How long will it take? How much will it cost? And will it be too late to save the habitability of the planet? For the environmental movement, the challenge requires organizing and mobilizing coalitions of resistance, exposing the industries tactics, and building voting power while the clean energy industry further establishes beachheads in the power generation, home heating and transportation sectors.
In this appendix, I have included many of the web pages connected to Divestment Facts. Closing out the appendix are links to several articles written in opposition to fossil fuel divestment. Many of the talking points in each article reflect those enumerated on DivestmentFacts.com.
Website Organized by Strategic Communications Companies
Survey Conducted by FTI and IPAA
Strategically Placed Articles and Editorials Citing the Poll or Opposing Fossil Fuel Divestment:
- Rampton, S. and Stauber, J. Toxic Sludge is Good for You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry 1995 pg. 92-93
- http://www.goldmansachs.com/our-thinking/pages/new-energy-landscape-folder/report-the-low-carbon-economy/report.pdf 18