To the president,   the world outside
Would like to know if you are satisfied.
The great extinction is right on course,
The great extinction is right on course.

Just how a person can be so smart,
And so foolish that it breaks your heart,
To Keep poisoning the atmosphere,
Keep poisoning the atmosphere.

You think it’s not the time, or not the place?
We’ve got to tell you that is not the case,
We’ve got to tell you that is not the case.

Some people only want to stay on track,
Keep carbon corporations in the black.
Combustion is their only business plan.
Combustion is their only business plan.

They’re going past the point of no return,
Take out your money before you burn.
It’s the tar baby and it won’t let go,
It’s the tar baby and it won’t let go.

You think it’s not the time, or not the place?
We’ve got to tell you that is not the case.
We’ve got to tell you that is not the case.

You think these companies are good for cash?
Look again, they are stranded, and they’re gonna crash.
Suicide is in their grand design,
Suicide is in their grand design.

I say it’s pretty elementary,
Investing in a world you’d like to see.
Put your money where you want to be,
Yeah, put your money where you want to be.

You think it’s not the time, or not the place?
We’ve got to tell you that is not the case.
We’ve got to tell you that is not the case.
There’s still a chance to save the human race.

Words & Music ©Doug Hendren & Nancy Beall 2014
With inspiration from Divest Harvard

What’s the song about?  This is about the urgency of discontinuing our economic dependence upon fossil fuels: coal, oil and natural gas. This means not only shifting away from using these fuels; it also means abandoning investments in the companies that produce them.

The song title is a quote from Harvard University President Drew Faust, whose statement  “That is not the case” was in denial of the fossil fuel industry’s methodical subversion of climate science, obstructing the dissemination of climate science into public awareness and government policy. In fact, the industry has been doing this for decades, and is very good at it.  In the ’70’s, they undermined medical science over the dangers of tobacco. Today, they undermine climate science to protect fossil fuel company profits, and they heavily influence the US government to undermine international climate talks, preventing the nations of the world from achieving binding commitments to stabilizing climate change.

Why Divest?   1) Ethics. Common sense says it is unethical to try to profit from companies whose activity is destroying the planet and our children’s futures;  2) Ecology. Extracting and transporting these fuels is highly destructive, poisons our lands, rivers and aquifers, and causes irreversible damage to farms and wells, including pipeline leaks, explosions, underwater leaks (as in BP’s Deepwater Horizon well in 2010);  Less obvious, 3) Fossil fuel companies are a risky investment, a “carbon bubble” which will pop.  Read on:

What’s the rush?  We have already had a taste of climate instability: record heat, cold, drought and floods all at the same time. “Extreme weather events” are more frequent, already amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars in economic damages.  In the United States alone, extreme events in 2012 attributed to climate change caused  an estimated  $170 billion dollars in damage. The agricultural losses due to California’s 2013-14 “500-year drought” have not yet been calculated.

Do the math.  As sobering as the above figures may be, they are but a shadow of things to come. Despite the failure to date to accomplish any binding international climate treaties, world governments have agreed on the urgency of keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees C.  To accomplish this goal will require leaving fully 80% of currently available fossil resources in the ground.

Stranded assets. Companies like Exxon-Mobil or Texaco are valued primarily by how many gallons of oil or cubic feet of gas they control, and these reserves only have value if they can be burned. As the song says, “Combustion is their only business plan“.  At some point, the extreme weather events will get worse, and the public will start to switch to more clean energy, reducing fossil demand.  If 80% of current reserves stay in the ground, it means they are “stranded”, of no value to the company shareholders. Company stocks will plunge as soon as the market absorbs this reality.

Is the divestment campaign working?  Begun by Bill McKibben and less than 18 months ago, it is catching on fast. Starting with churches and universities, it has spread to include towns and cities. Many large global investment funds, including the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, are already selling off their investments in the fossil fuel industry. If enough people divest, some of this money will be diverted into low-carbon energy investments including wind, solar, electric vehicle technology and improved efficiency. As divestment becomes more popular, the devil’s bargain we have long had with the oil, gas and coal industries will become seen for what it really is. Increased public awareness will help drive energy policy to stop subsidizing these mature industries, supporting instead the industries that can actually take us into a livable future.  Historically, the best-known successful “divestment” campaign was over apartheid in South Africa in the 1980’s. By all accounts, the current fossil fuel divestment campaign is growing much faster. Get on board!

Do scientists all agree on the climate issue? In a word, yes.  Of published climate-related articles in peer-reviewed journals in 2013, 99.99% of climate authors agree with the reality of climate change, and that it is caused primarily by humans putting carbon (CO2 and CH4, or methane) into the atmosphere. The insurance industry agrees with this as well: see Munich Re resource below.

Will “shareholder engagement” with fossil fuel companies work? While shareholder activism may improve their behavior somewhat, it is delusional to expect this approach to their basic business plan. Could you talk a lion into becoming vegetarian?  Consider that, while we already have more fossil reserves than we can possibly burn, the 200 largest publicly traded fossil fuel companies spent an estimated $674 billion in 2012 looking for more. They wouldn’t look for more if they didn’t intend to burn it.  ExxonMobil at least has finally acknowledged the reality of climate change to its shareholders.

Resources:  How do companies balance climate concerns with shareholder profits?  Here is a spicy, but more brutally honest explanation than you are likely to find in any annual report!  Australian Coal Mining Policy Update 2014

The Guardian: NASA-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for “irreversible collapse”?

Munich Re:  Extreme weather events – Signs of climate change?









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