When a Rockefeller decides to divest fossil fuel investments, heads turn. After all, America’s pioneer/father of oil production is John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) founder of America’s first great business trust, Standard Oil Company, dominating the oil industry for years.
In September 2014, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, an $860 million philanthropy, decided to join the divestment movement of college campuses around the country. These forerunners of decarbonizing are acting on “environmental principles,” according to John Schwartz, Rockefellers, Heirs to an Oil Fortune, Will Divest Charity of Fossil Fuels, The New York Times, Sept. 21, 2014.
In recent years, 180 institutions, including philanthropies, religious organizations, pension funds and local governments, as well as hundreds of wealthy individual investors, have pledged to sell assets tied to fossil fuel companies and to invest in cleaner alternatives. In all, the groups have pledged to divest assets worth more than $50 billion, and individuals more than $1 billion.
The divest movement has quietly, but quickly since 2011, gone from small student activist groups into mainstream America. The real value behind divestment is not necessarily the financial impact on fossil fuel companies. They are enormously well capitalized, and millions or billions leaving the ship will not deter their business plans. The real value to the divestment movement is all about “changing the conversation about the climate.” Indeed, this is a bell-ringer.
Does Divestment Work?
“The evidence from South Africa suggests that divestment, while ineffective in a financial sense, can have an impact by shaping public discourse,” Eric Hendley, Does Divestment Work? Harvard University, Institute of Politics, 2015, “Divestment from select fossil fuel producers would send a powerful message to the energy industry and the nation. It would signal that America’s universities take the climate-energy challenge seriously.”
Interestingly, ever since the first American mass student protest movements of 1936-39, when 500,000 collegians protested with one-hour strikes against war as well as demanding job programs for youth, academic freedom, racial equality and collective bargaining rights to the anti-war movement against U.S. involvement in Vietnam in the 1960s, deep schisms within American society are exposed, ultimately leading to progressive changes in attitudes of mainstream America, relatively speaking.
The student divestment movement against fossil fuels started at Swarthmore College in 2011. Overall, 400 college campuses now have active divestment movements. Similar to student movements in the past, this nascent movement has now moved beyond higher education.
Students serve as the nation’s alter egos, and history has proven them right, time and again, because their cause comes from a high plateau on moral grounds. Their allegiances are to principled values, not neoliberal economic statistics like profits for the sake of profit. Ask the Rockefeller heirs about the value of a higher moral ground.
America’s Impending Renewables Revolution
U.S. economic history provides insight to what happens when major economic transformations occur. The Roaring Twenties were not called “roaring” for nothing. That era experienced an ongoing economic renaissance as automobiles took over the roads.
From 1910 to 1930 U.S. GDP increased 300%. That whopper of an economy occurred while one of the America’s biggest industries, manufacturing of horse-drawn carriages, went out of business! The conversion from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles, the 15 millionth Model T rolled off the assembly line in 1927, set the nation’s economy on fire.
It is believed America’s renewable energy conversion will mimic the Roaring Twenties. Fossil fuels are today’s horse-drawn carriages.
Across the nation, one-fourth of U.S. land area has winds powerful enough to generate electricity as cheaply as natural gas and coal. That’s not all, the solar resources of just seven southwestern states could provide 10 times the current electric generating capacity.
According to Greenpeace-USA, ironically, in North Dakota alone, the home state to a massive fossil fuel fracking boom, there is enough wind power to produce nearly 1/3rd of the total electricity consumption for America.
And, enough sunlight hits the earth’s surface in one hour to power all humanity for one year.
Congressional Endorsement of Solar
NASA’s Space Station, which is funded by Congress, monitored by Congress, and praised by Congress survives in outer space amongst the harshest of elements 100% solar 24/7 even when shaded as solar rechargeable fuel cells take over.
Congress knows all about the benefits of solar power. In fact, they endorse it because they personally oversee how enormously effective it is as the “one and only source of energy” for America’s astronauts.
If Congress can endorse solar outside of Earth’s atmosphere, surely Congress can endorse it within Earth’s atmosphere.
It’s much, much, much easier to construct solar panels on Earth than in gravity-less outer space where temperatures run between + 1,000 degrees F (that’s really hot!) and minus 455 degrees F (that’s really cold!), depending upon whether one is in the sun or the shade.
America’s Enormous Renewable Potential
By 2050, clean energy would save an average American consumer $3,400 per year versus fossil fuel usage, this according to The Solutions Project. That’s because the price of fossil fuel rises regularly, but with clean energy, where raw materials are free, once the infrastructure is built, prices would fall.
The Solutions Project, developed by Stanford University scientists led by Mark Jacobson, Senior Fellow, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering is a nonprofit organization based upon plans for a 50-state roadmap to 100% renewable energy.
According to Dr. Jacobson, the country is ready for it. His detailed plan provides for existing renewable technology to supplant almost all fossil fuels. No new technology is required.
As for jobs, according to Daniel Kammen, professor in UC Berkeley’s Energy & Resources Group and Goldman School of Public Policy and head of UC Berkeley’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory: “Across a broad range of scenarios, the renewable energy sector generates more jobs per average megawatt of power installed, and per unit of energy produced, than the fossil fuel-based energy sector.”
As it happens, America’s politicians have a fancy for jobs. Every political debate involves the effectiveness of how a given party can create jobs. Welcome to the renewable energy “job-creation machine.” Rebuilding the nation’s energy infrastructure with renewables would be equivalent to a new Marshall Plan but in America, an era that witnessed strong job growth, happy workers, and productive enterprises.
Indisputable Success of Green Economics
Clean, green energy in North Carolina supports more than 1,200 companies employing more than 15,200 high-paying jobs. Thus and so, North Carolina is a prime example of the benefits of investing in green energy, which creates twice the number of jobs as investing in coal and almost three times more than natural gas.
As a result, North Carolina is attracting international companies, now investing and creating jobs in America, companies like Siser, USA, an Italian company, and Schletter, a German company that manufactures solar mounting systems.
Green technology is helping to reverse the decades-old trend of American multinationals exporting good, solid American middle class jobs to lousy low paying weak regulatory countries, a deplorable consequence of transnational globalization heavily influenced by neoliberal tenets, i.e., privatization of public assets, minimal government, reduced public expenditures on social services, and in reality, a big time emphasis on “personal liberty maximization” by eliminating governmental programs for society, or a dog-eat-dog world where each individual stands his/her private ground, defending one’s property against the hapless masses. Let the chips fall where they may… today’s right wing Republican mantra! Thus, society turns asocial, a brutalizing world of “haves opposing have nots,” thereby guaranteeing social discord.
“North Carolina reaped revenue from clean energy projects of $2.67 billion from 2007 to 2013, a figure nearly 20 times greater than the state incentives of $135.2 million, according to an analysis prepared by RTI International,” Clean Economy Rising: Solar Shines in North Carolina, A Brief from the Pew Charitable Trust, October 2014.
In short, green energy’s payback is 20-to-1. Wall Street salivates over such numbers.
Just like that, North Carolina is demonstrating superb results with green technology promoting growth, high-wage jobs, a strong tax base, as well as attracting international companies. That’s called prosperity!
America’s climate deniers in Congress should really, seriously, decidedly take a taxpayer-paid (of course) field trip to North Carolina, a state that is creating high-paying jobs, attracting foreign investment, and generating a strong revenue base by promoting green technology. Then, maybe Congress will reverse all fossil fuel subsidies, converted to renewable energy subsidies, helping spark a renaissance of growth in America.
Imagine the spectacular results for the entire country if Congress initiates a nationwide plan for converting fossil fuels to renewable energy, similar to JFK’s charge to go to the moon. Evidenced by the Space Station, Congress already knows how effectively solar power works
Whichever political party jumps on board the renewable economic revolution first will likely “seal the deal” for political dominance for some time to come as Americans once again “whistle whilst they work,” as the renewable revolution brings high paying jobs all across the country. And, workers once again have a sense of pride, making good money just as they help rescue the planet from ill effects of fossil fuels.
It’s the Roaring Twenties, sans oil, redux!
Thanks to the leadership of America’s prescient students.
Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at email@example.com