Innovate, Then Invest

Divest Andover fails to recognize the financial and moral complexities that obfuscate a discussion on climate change. The movement approaches the problem ideologically with little attention paid to practicality or effectiveness. This ignorance undermines the Divest movement and is why its efforts will have no impact in combating climate change.

First and foremost: divesting doesn’t work at a financial level. In a Letter to the Editor in The Phillipian, proponents of Divest Andover argued that if enough institutions sold their shares in fossil fuel companies, these companies would be forced to abandon fossil fuels to appease the popular demand. However, these companies already cater to a much stronger demand than environmental change: our appetite for energy. Take Exxon Mobil for example; this large fossil fuel company booked a profit of $40 billion in 2011 off of revenues of over $450 billion. Exxon Mobil’s profitability is not at risk.

Divest Andover needs to understand that gyrations in the stock market do not affect the operations of the company. The stock is not the company; it is an imperfect reflection of the company’s performance, which in Exxon Mobil’s case is rather great. If institutions such as Andover dumped their shares (an action which would incur capital gains taxes that would hurt our endowment), the stock price may suffer short term. However, there would be no impact because other investors would simply view the shares as undervalued and purchase the ones we sold. For a company with a market capitalization of over $415 billion, a noticeable decrease in price would only occur if the entire market wrote off Exxon Mobil as taboo, but even then the core company would still be profitable! If Americans decided to not turn up their heat, switch on their lights or show up at the pump, only then would Exxon Mobil’s bottom line be trimmed.

Divest Andover attempts to beat Exxon on Wall Street, yet the only way to truly confront Exxon is on Main Street, where Americans have already demonstrated their apathy to climate change. Even if we were to divest, we would be labeling ourselves as hypocrites. Yes, we may not own shares in fossil fuel companies, but we would still be buying their products. We’d just be kidding ourselves.

The Divest movement also takes a simplistic moral viewpoint by labeling complex systems as either all good or all bad. Divest Andover views fossil companies as only boardrooms of greedy executives. They fail to recognize that the fossil fuel industry provides an economic livelihood for millions of people. We, students of Andover, reap the rewards of our global fossil fueled economy—we are among the most privileged youth from every quarter. For us to vilify those who put food on the table through jobs involving fossil fuels is downright ignorant and selfish.

Green technology today is not a viable option in the marketplace because the technology is simply far too expensive and impractical. We cannot force these companies to adopt technology that denies them profitability and weakens their workforce, investors and infrastructure. It is easy for us, who live in the Andover environment, to propose expensive investments in green technology because they come at no detriment to our personal well being. For every solar panel installed on a building, a new refinery is built in a developing country where raising the standard of living is a more pressing issue than combating climate change. Additionally, today’s green infrastructure is not yet ready for the modern world’s energy demands. Many green startups spend most of their time and money trying to increase the marketability of inefficient and expensive technology. Investing in companies with no competitive product is a plan doomed to fail. Shunning fossil fuels comes at an economic cost, and this cost is not felt in the halls of Sam Phil, but on the backs of low wage workers in the energy industry. Irrational solutions such as divesting are out of touch and have no place at Andover.

So what is the answer? Progress in combating climate change will only be made once technology capable of competing with fossil fuels is developed. Climate change is a great challenge for our generation, and thus should be treated accordingly, not inadequately simplified by initiatives such as divesting. The only practical and possible solution to approach climate change is innovation. Don’t throw money at the problem. Throw minds at it. An institution that values education so highly as Andover should inspire and teach our students to solve this energy crisis through science—not by trying to crash Exxon Mobil’s share price.

Ryan Brigden is a two-year Lower from Virgina Water, United Kingdom. Carter Page is a two-year Lower from Northbrook, IL.