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April 22, 2015

Naomi Klein, an author and social activist, presenting her latest book in Madrid. (Adolfo Lujan/Flickr).

Don’t be fooled by the windmills you see in Chevron’s sleek advertising, says author and activist Naomi Klein. Fossil fuel companies may claim they care about preventing climate change, but as they earn record profits Klein says they are clearly not reducing fossil fuel consumption.

What they are doing is making investors very happy, while giving student activists and environmentalists cause for concern—enough to demand their colleges and universities sell off fossil fuel stocks in their endowments.

While there is a push for market-based solutions to reduce carbon emissions, Klein points out Exxon Mobil has been breaking records, earning $45 billion in annual profits.

Klein supports the student-led divestment movement, arguing that the market will never fix the problems causing climate change. Only radical alterations to our economic structure, our legislation and our ideology will steer us away from catastrophe as we face inevitable changes from global warming. That restructuring would require incredible public will and public investment—but those in power say it’s impossible.

Watch Klein's entire talk on WGBH's Forum Network.

It’s understandable that colleges focused on growing endowments would choose to invest in companies like Exxon Mobile, BP and Chevron. But Klein reminds us we’re all connected by the impact of climate change and catastrophic damage, and funding fuel extraction companies isn’t good business in the long term.

Related: Divestment Is More Difficult Than Most Think

Divestment sends a message to the government to do the will of the people, who claim they haven’t heard from enough of the population to believe this issue merits more action. Activists point out that the public can also stop consuming fossil fuels right now. Research out of Stanford University shows that the technology is available for the country to shift to using 100 percent renewable energy, removing fossil fuel extraction from our future. Many more would have to take those actions to push back hard enough against the big oil lobby.

“[The lobby stands] to lose trillions in so-called “stranded assets” if our governments decide to take climate change seriously and decide to live up to the 2 degree temperature target that they set in Copenhagen in 2009,” Klein said. “So faced with the loss of these enormous profits, this industry fights to win. They fight like they mean it. They fight with passion.”

The Forum Network is a public media service of WGBH that collects thousands of video and audio lectures from the world's foremost scholars, authors, artists, scientists, policymakers, and community leaders, made available to the public for free.

divestment, technology and innovation, Forum Network

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