Balancing the Moral, the Economic and taking Action for Divestment

In our divestment campaigns it can be difficult to balance between the economics of divestment, organizing/building power, and communicating the urgency of action and need for climate justice. It’s easy to get sucked into the economic arguments for divestment, they make sense to our rational minds and we consider them often our best chance at convincing decision makers to divest, but are they always?  


When we limit ourselves to just the economics of divestment, we lose the important, emotionally resonant reasons we do this work - the urgency of action, the impacts of climate change/extreme weather, and solidarity with frontline communities and other reasons that speak to our heart. The same reasons these motivate us could be true of the decision makers we’re targeting. During South African apartheid divestment campaigns, it was the moral argument that most effectively mobilized people to take action, and convinced decision makers.


During the tobacco divestment movement, Philip Morris felt unable to defeat campaigners because the moral ground was owned by those calling for divestment. The company researched campaigns and figured out that could own the economic ground with more expertise than the divestment campaigns. This strategy was successful in fighting off divestment for a long time by forcing the argument to be primarily about economics. 

The emotional heart arguments and the economic head discourse are both powerful and necessary tools, but without organizing and action, they too are not enough. Again looking at the history of divestment campaigns, it was rarely enough to just “be right” on morals or economics, divestment organizers needed to take action. Divestment campaigns employed a range of tactics, most notable sit-ins, occupations and building “Shanty Towns” (mock versions of the townships that Blacks we’re forced to live in under apartheid). In many cases, it was only when campaigns turned to actions and pressure tactics that wins were realized. At both the University of Toronto and Carleton University, divestment campaigners organized direct actions after having divestment rejected by their administrations. Within months both campaigns won full divestment.  

What does this mean? We need to develop strategies that brings together and values all three of these tools for the fossil fuel divestment movement, and recognizes the importance of each one. 

Download a copy of the Three Pronged Strategy for Divestment 

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