Reg and Syd: Divesting Your Nose To Spite Your Face

Fossil Free California logo“Did you see this, Reg?”

“Curious, Syd. The state of California is giving away free fossils?”

“Right. You know as well as I do that the state of California’s in no position to give anything away. No, they’re kicking out all of their old people in anticipation of the collapse of the Social Security system.”

Touché. Although that’s closer to being the truth than most people realize.”


“But yes, I do recognize the logo. It’s from one of those organizations that’s trying to get the nation’s universities to sell their investments in fossil fuel companies. They just posted an open letter to the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley. I saw it. So did one of my senior vice presidents.”

“Does this have anything to do with the maniacal laughter I heard coming from your board room a few minutes ago?”

“It does. It so happens that he was on the Berkeley faculty the last time it actually acted upon one of these popular movements, some 40 years ago. They were going to save the world from pollution then, and they did it by putting restrictions on automobiles on campus.”


“The fad passed, as fads do. And guess what faculty members spent the next forty years complaining most loudly about?”


“Precisely. And after he finally was able to catch his breath, my VP gasped out his incredulity that such supposedly bright people could persist in being so profoundly stupid.”

“Those profoundly stupid people appear to be bright enough to have worked out that fossil fuels are bad news.”

“Of course they are!”

What?!? Reginald DeRiviere, climate change fanatic??

“You disappoint me, Syd. Fossil fuel burning destroys our environment, and has been doing so since humans first discovered coal. Gambling ruins lives, and overall, societies spend more on its costs than they earn from it. Drugs are worse. Yet we both have large investments in all of them. And you know why as well as I do.”

“They all have customers.”

“They all have customers. And customers who have made it very plain that they will have their cars, their lotteries, their ganga. Take any of these away, and you have riots on your hands as well as bankrupt businesses. I’m still waiting to see the first ones of these types whose personal carbon footprints approach what they are insisting that the rest of us adopt. And if these persons, who supposedly know ‘the facts’, are unwilling to live with what their data are telling them, you think John Doe out there’s going to give anything up? Especially with the prospect of the United States actually having some economic clout for a change thanks to our – momentary, of course – technological superiority in mining ‘tight’ oil and gas?”

“People can be persuaded, of course.”

“Only if you can convince them that you have something better to offer. People who smoke wish to be able to continue to smoke, even better if they can do it more cheaply than before. It’s easy to sway them by saying that smoking’s OK, even though it’s not, and bashing the arguments to the contrary, even though they’re the truth. Trust me, when the eggheads come up with an energy solution that looks like a win-win, will solve the carbon problem and let the soccer moms keep their SUVs, I’ll be all over it with every dollar in my fortune. Until then, I’m going to keep putting my money where the customers are. And those customers, right now, include those idiot, hypocritical climate-change eggheads.”

“And divestment in energy stocks by the universities where these eggheads work won’t sway the argument?”

“Didn’t Nelson Mandela pass away just a few days ago?”

“Yes, he did.”

He led a divestment campaign, didn’t he? To try to pressure South Africa into abandoning apartheid? Was it successful?”

“Only partially.”

“Indeed. Because the smartest universities realized that divesting a profitable portfolio is dumb. Many of those universities held onto those South African investments in the face of all political pressure, for as long as they remained financially viable. And of course, some never did divest. One of those institutions now has such a profitable endowment that it’s been able to stop charging tuition to its students. While those institutions that divested are whacking their students with record fees, and debts. With those universities now under mounting pressures from tuition pushback, and declining state and Federal investments, not to mention the challenge to their revenues from massive open online courses draining off students from the large lecture courses that are their most cost-effective instruments, they will need to divest stocks from their portfolios only on what the market says is wise, not on what the political movement of the month is.”

“You wish to hear those egghead scientists scream, Reg?”

“You mean more than they are already?

“Cut their salaries, because the universities have divested fossil fuel stocks as they demanded, and now no longer have the money to fund them or their political units.”

“Now that would be a picture, having some of these senior rabble-rousing academics wandering the world looking for work, like one of their postdocs.”

What postdocs?”

“Even better! (cough, cough)”

“Throat dry?”

“Well, you got me started.”

“I’m sure I can get one of the servants to bring up an appropriate medicine from the cellar.”

“Please do. Most kind of you.”

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