Contesting Corporate Power: Exploring Why Individuals and Organizations Divest from Fossil Fuels Companies and What Social Factors Influence Them.

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 13:30
Location: Hörsaal II (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Mihai SARBU, University of Ottawa, Canada
Consumer capitalism offers to many of us, mostly in the developed countries, a material abundance hardly imaginable only a few decades ago. At the same time, consumer capitalism is based on a growth-dependent economy which generates unprecedented destruction due to increasing over-exploitation of resources, pollution, and climate change. In 2015 the resources that should have lasted for the whole year have been consumed in less than seven and a half months, and if the current trends continue, we will need the resources of two planets Earth by 2030. The oceans are affected by plastic pollution and acidification, and the extinction rates of many animal species amount to what has been termed as a “sixth extinction.” Finally, we may have exceeded the CO2 concentration consistent with a 2°C increase in the average temperature of the planet. In spite of the increasing urgency to act, the structural forces that define consumer capitalism keep us locked into a business-as-usual model that threatens not only the future of human civilization, but the well-being of the biosphere.

Market forces are at the heart of this business-as-usual model, but could they also be its “Achilles heel”? Could divestment from fossil fuel companies contribute, through financial mechanisms, to a transition toward cleaner sources of energy? Making a judgment in this matter is not easy because the share prices of the companies and the prices of fossil fuels are not governed by the same dynamics. Moreover, the motivations of those who decide to divest from fossil fuel companies may be ethical, financial, or a combination thereof. This paper attempts to study and clarify these motivations and understand which social factors influence the decisions of individuals and organizations to divest from fossil fuels. Imagining a future without fossil fuels could open the door to substantial social and economic innovation.