Divesting from fossil fuels in Malaysia… is it possible? A thought experiment

Yesterday in our MESYM Documentary Night we watched 350.org‘s Do the Math. This documentary was very well received by all our attendees, after the screening we had a very interesting discussion, everyone had something to say. I’d like to invite everyone now to be part of the discussion, and see how we can find a way to work together and tackle the problem in Malaysia.

First, a summary of the movie

It has been agreed by the scientific community and governments alike that the temperature in our planet cannot rise more than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, or otherwise it will put civilization in danger. For this to happen, we have to emit 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide. Problem is, burning the fossil fuel that corporations now have in their reserves would result in emitting 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide – five times this safe amount. And given the current rate of CO2 emissions, this number will be reached in only 15 years from now. Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, explains these numbers in this article for the Rolling Stone.

Renewable energy is in some places already cheaper than fossil fuel energy. However, this could be the situation everywhere, and not the exception. Why fossil fuels are in most places still cheaper than renewable energy is because of 2 main reasons:

Had the Government not subsidized the fossil fuel industry, or added into the cost of fuel the external cost of polluting the air, the price of renewable energy would be lower than fossil fuel energy.

350.org’s strategy to deal with this issue

350.org’s activists propose to go fossil free: “If it is wrong to wreck the climate, then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage. We believe that educational and religious institutions, city and state governments, and other institutions that serve the public good should divest from fossil fuels”.

This strategy is so beautiful, because it is so simple: institutions must freeze any investment in fossil fuel companies, and move these investments to other industries, preferably into funding renewable energy enterprises. Fossil fuel disinvestment is a similar strategy to the Disinvestment in South Africa campaign that helped end Apartheid.

Why divesting from fossil fuels?

Answer from gofossilfree.org’s FAQ:

Stopping fossil fuel infrastructure projects are important. Coal plants cause asthma and dump mercury into the air and water; fracking fluid can leak into groundwater and make people sick; pipelines can leak, and so on. We can and should stand with people on the front lines of these fights to stop projects like the Keystone XL pipeline, that would destroy communities and the planet, and contribute to climate change.

But, we can’t stop global warming one pipeline, coal plant or fracking well at a time–the numbers just don’t add up. At the same time that we’re working hard to stop these destructive projects, we need to loosen the grip that coal, oil and gas companies have on our government and financial markets, so that we have a chance of living on a planet that looks something like the one we live on now. It’s time to go right at the root of the problem–the fossil fuel companies themselves–and make sure they hear us in terms they might understand, like their share price.

A Malaysian thought experiment

So, what about Malaysia? Do you think we can make this (eventually) happen? I will propose several scenarios where normal people (like you or me) can become involved… please take a minute to think about this, if it makes sense, if you are willing to do it, or how or what you think you can do.

  • Does any institution you belong to (corporation, university, religious group, etc) have investments in fossil fuel industries? If you don’t know, any way you can find out?
  • Can you put pressure into this organization, eg: by organizing with your classmates / colleagues, and ask them to divest?
  • Can you ask your employer by discourage driving, eg: encouraging car pooling or taking LRT?
  • Do you work for a school (or another public institution), and organize with other schools to ask the Government to stop subsidizing fossil fuel industries, or you will go on strike?
  • Do you work for a bank, and can convince your manager to not invest its assets into the fuel industry anymore?
  • Are you willing to create a campaign to invite other people to join and ask the Government to add the external cost of polluting the air into the price of fossil fuels?
  • Do you know anyone in the Government who can help push new laws and, more importantly, enforce them?
  • Do you know anyone from the media (eg: TV or newspaper journalist) who can expose these views to the wider audience?
  • Etc (add your own questions here)

Please share this thought experiment with your friends, and encourage them to share their views, comment on these issues, and invite them to take action. After all, 15 years more is not that much time…

Featured image provided by Public Domain Photos under Creative Commons license.

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