By May 27, 2015 Read More →

Divestment movement a big joke in both America, Canada

Comedian Scott Vrooman’s promotion of divestment movement amusing bit of schtick, nothing more

The divestment movement in Canada and the United States is getting a bit of attention these days. Fortunately, universities, energy investors, and the general public aren’t taking it seriously.

divestment movement

Scott Vrooman for Senate. Seriously. Photo: Scott Vrooman.

Take for example writer and comedian Scott Vrooman. This bright young man has appeared on the Conan O’Brien Show and is currently touting his campaign to be elected to the Canadian Senate – which is appointed, not elected. The kid’s got a sense of humour.

Vrooman is also floating a campaign to get Dalhousie University and Queen’s University to stop investing in fossil fuel companies. If they don’t, he’s willing to tear up his degrees from the institutions.

“Primarily it’s a moral argument, where if you’re an institution that claims to be working in the public interest, you can’t do that and also be invested in fossil fuels, because torching the climate isn’t in the public interest,” said Vrooman told the Canadian Press.

Threatening to light his sheepskins on fire might get more attention, but the comic is clearly educated enough to appreciate the irony.

divestment movement

Scott Vrooman for Senate. Just because he makes us giggle. Kind of like the divestment movement.

In any event, Canadian universities just aren’t getting with the program. Last fall, Dalhousie University rejected calls to divest of fossil fuels, while the University of Calgary pre-emptively said it was not looking at making changes to its investments in the energy industry. Concordia University has promised to make $5 million of its roughly $130 million endowment fossil-free, and several other schools are considering divestment proposals, but no Canadian university has actually signed on to fully getting rid of its fossil fuel investments.

Experts aren’t encouraging divestment in oil and gas companies, either. Bob Walker, vice-president of NEI Ethical Funds, says it’s better to work with companies to bring about policy changes.

“We’ve been engaging companies for 15 years, and from our experience you can’t change a company you don’t own,” he said. “Once we divest from a company our voice is gone.”

Werner Antweiler, an environmental economics expert at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, says that while he is a strong supporter for action on climate change he thinks the divestment movement is flawed.

“It also opens up the universities to being hypocrites because we all use fossil fuels, and if you divest from fossil fuel companies, how can you do that and at the same time drive a car?”

Good question. And one that American energy investors have obviously thought about because they aren’t buying into the divestment movement, despite a few high profile outliers like the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which late last year committed to phasing out coal and oil sands investments from its roughly $1.1 billion fund.

A survey released last month by the Independent Petroleum Association of America shows that professional investors haven’t paid a lick of attention to Bill McKibben and his three-year old divestment campaign.

Among the survey’s key findings, greater than nine out of 10 respondents identified the energy sector as being “inextricably linked” to other major sectors of both the global and U.S. economies, with nearly 80 percent agreeing that the inclusion of fossil-fuel related investments is an “essential element” of having a “balanced, diversified portfolio.”

“I think we assumed going in that most serious investors wouldn’t be following them, wouldn’t be interested in them, and certainly aren’t being influenced by them, but even we were surprised to see how lopsided the findings were,” said Jeff Eshelman, senior vice president for operations and public affairs at IPAA.

“Basically, this whole thing is almost entirely a media campaign, not an effort to engage real investors with real arguments.”

And that brings us full circle to Vrooman. Not even an expert self-promoting comedian can drum up interest in the divestment movement. A “media campaign,” indeed.

With files from The Canadian Press.

Posted in: Markham on Energy

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