12 Feb 2015

“Divestment Day” Hurts Investors, Does Nothing for Climate

Climate Change, Shameless Self-Promotion 6 Comments

My latest at IER. An excerpt:

To be sure, in these discussions the activists would come back and make the issue one of simple morality: Would you pick up the wallet from an unconscious man lying on the sidewalk, even if you knew that the next guy surely would? In a case like this, to keep a clean conscience, most people would say they would refrain from profiting in this fashion, knowing full well the guy was going to get robbed.

But even on its own terms, the alleged problem of human-caused climate change isn’t like this. Even the computer models selected by the Obama Administration to measure the “social cost of carbon” don’t say that fossil fuel use should stop—instead they simply conclude that humans ought to cut back on the margin to make the benefits and costs come into synch. This is a technical issue that I have debated elsewhere, but the point is that using fossil fuels isn’t “immoral” in the way that, say, taking a guy’s wallet would be.

To see just how confused it would be to transform divestment into a simple issue of morality, consider: Just about everyone at the universities in question, including the administrators, faculty, and students, drive cars and use electricity that were largely powered through fossil fuels. They will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, whether or not the university endowment holds the stocks of certain companies providing them with that energy. This would be an odd “moral stand against fossil fuels” indeed.



6 Responses to ““Divestment Day” Hurts Investors, Does Nothing for Climate”

  1. E. Harding says:

    If there were no legal consequences against picking up the wallet, and I knew for certain that someone else would pick it up, I’d definitely pick up the wallet. I trust my own sense of where to spend money in a socially optimal way much better than some stranger’s.

  2. E. Harding says:

    Also, Bob, have you ever wondered why none of your posts after 2012 show up in Google search results?

  3. Josiah says:

    I don’t think the divestment movement was ever supposed to make sense. It’s all about the feels.

  4. Transformer says:

    Won’t “Divestment Day” actually help investors make a bigger profit and only harm dis-investors ?

  5. Major.Freedom says:

    Divestment day is a ritual, nothing more.

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