In the wake of the University of Winnipeg’s second rejection of fossil fuel divestment, student activists railed against the administration calling their own Trustees “underhanded” and labeling all other sustainability measures as mere “greenwashing.” The irony is, of course, fossil fuel divestment is an entirely symbolic gesture and most certainly less impactful than the commitments the University decided to pursue.
According to a University press release, in lieu of divesting U Winnipeg committed to establishing a renewable energy investment portfolio as an option for investors; a policy that is in line with what many other Canadian universities have adopted. While this step should have been seen as a reasonable middle ground in the debate over fossil fuel divestment—and a middle ground that, importantly, won’t have the financially deleterious impact divesting would – student activists have vowed to continue their efforts to push U Winnipeg into adopting a meaningless and costly divestment strategy.
The ineffectiveness of fossil fuel divestment has been noted repeatedly by Boards of Trustees, University Presidents and Administrators, and economists worldwide. Their reasoning is simple; because divestment does not confer any real financial impact on the targeted companies since other investors will simply acquire the holdings, divesting from fossil fuels is an entirely empty gesture.
In the words of the Harvard Crimson’s Editorial Board after their university rejected fossil fuel divestment:
“Simply put, it is the supply of and the demand for fossil fuels that creates the market valuations of energy companies, not the reverse. Divestment has no ability to alter these basic economic realities.”
Even the Harvard’s own director of the environmental economics program, Professor Robert Stavins, had to agree with this assessment, noting that while the concerns of the students are understandable “the message from the divestment movement is fundamentally misguided.”
This persistent trend of Universities rejecting divestment did not lessen the blow to U Winnipeg’s student activists who have been vocal in their disappointment and expressing their “shock… that the university had money in oil companies.”