Divestment is Dangerous

2 09 2014

A guest post by Ben Pennings.  Originally posted on his Generation Alpha website, Ben argues that 350.org’s divestment campaign is dangerous. 

In truth, we need a panacea of ‘solutions’. Divestment on its own, like active onsite protest on its own, will not cut it. I also believe that, finally, the entire system of capitalism is on its knees, and could fail any day. It is that ill and that fragile……

This is why I tend to agree with both David Homgren and Nicole Foss, even though they disagree with each other! Divestment fits in with Holmgren’s “Crash on Demand” scenario, and I think the more people divest themselves of mining shares the better. No it won’t have an effect of its own accord, but it’s baby steps.

Like Holmgren, I also believe that simply ‘opting out’ will help too. He believes that if 10% of the middle class did this, then the Matrix would collapse.

I also agree with Nicole. She believes the financial sector, through corruption, greed, and a total absence of links to reality is doomed to fail anytime. I personally don’t believe anything serious will stop the madness until we either have a financial crash, or we run out of affordable fossil fuels. Literally a race to the bottom.

We can only hope that race plays out to a satisfactory finish line (such as it might be satisfactory..) before it’s all too late, and catastrophic climate change becomes inevitable.

I’d love to know what DTM readers think of this…

Ben Pennings is a 25-year veteran of environmental and social justice movements, and the founder of Generation Alpha. His activism has ranged all the way from direct action to directly lobbying at the State Cabinet table.  He has sailed on The Rainbow Warrior II, sung for The Dalai Lama and written a book of profiles on people who have experienced homelessness. Ben is happily married with 2 children and 2 step-children. He coordinates Generation Alpha’s campaign to stop coal mining in Australia’s Galilee Basin and is planning to publish a deep green anthology.

My internal dialogue about all the coal divestment material I see has been getting angrier, more passionate, more desperate. Words like dodgy, diversionary, delusional and just plain dumb emotionally escalated last night to “what the fuck are these corporate stooge lying fuckers doing to our movement”.


The impetus? An email by 350.org.

I get that divestment can be used as a long-term awareness-raising tool. I’ve never got how it can be a successful tactic though, a way to actually stop the ‘extraction’ and burning of fossil fuels in the time we have left. A while back Generation Alpha gently invited 350.org to written debate on the value of the divestment in combating coal expansion in Australia. We never got a reply.

The price of coal is currently very low due to a glut in the market. It is easy for banks to say they will not finance projects that aren’t particularly profitable. In the likelihood the price rises again though, banks will be falling over themselves to lend money for coal developments. Their job is to make money for shareholders, first and foremost (with some obscene bonuses for executives on the way). Some banks with a retail brand may decide not to finance coal if there is enough customer pressure. However, there are many other non-retail banks ready to invest in pretty much anything that will turn a profit.

Banks finance landmines, depleted uranium shells, cluster bombs and any number of unspeakable weapons. Because they are profitable. All sorts of ‘respectable’ industries get finance for products and developments that involve child slavery. Child slavery increases profit. Animal experimentation and torture? Profitable too.

Divestment attempts to ‘humanize’ or ‘green’ capitalism. It will fail, just like every attempt previously. Capitalism is bigger, uglier and more destructive than ever. It is stripping the planet of life with greater efficiency, turning the natural world into money with increasing speed. It relies on mass slavery, mass poverty, the destruction of cultures and communities. It is doing all this with increasing government compliance.

The many reasons ‘Big Green’ groups stick to safe predictable tactics that pose no threat to this abusive system of living has to be left for another article. But what these groups and tactics definitely do is take energy, creativity and resources away from grassroots groups that actually wish to change our abusive system of living rather than power it in a slightly greener way. Groups that understand that we must consume less, populate less, live differently. That the only green energy is less energy.

So back to this email from 350.org in Australia. It was about a campaign called Banking On The Reef. The email said that the companies wanting to mine the Galilee Basin and ship coal through the Great Barrier Reef “need the support of major Australian and international banks” and that “we need to show our banks that we don’t support them financing climate and Reef destruction”. The email implores Australians to contact their banks (through 350.org of course) and tell them such.

There is a problem though, a key mistruth. The companies wanting to mine, strip, ship, dredge and pillage do not need the support of Australian banks at all. Australian banks haven’t financed anything thus far and have shown no indication they will. The companies involved are not seeking finance from Australian banks and probably never will. 350.org know all this. They should also know in the likelihood the price of coal raises again there will be a suite of banks ready to finance this insanity, and there’s nothing any divestment campaign can do about it.

It’s hard to see the Banking on the Reef campaign as anything but empire building. Australians love the Great Barrier Reef and I’m sure 350.org will collect a lot more email addresses. These addresses may be used well or could be used for similar deluded campaigning that will do little than greenwash capitalism.

Maybe I shouldn’t be stunned by such tactics. 350.org are majorly funded by large corporate trusts and unlikely to challenge the hand that feeds them. They came to Australia with a patchy reputation from the US but I gave them the benefit of the doubt, as they were initially willing to support grassroots direct action. This new campaign is the last straw for me and I fear that 350.org will do little but empire build and co-opt grassroots action.

Of course I hope that I’m wrong. If 350.org wish to use their staff and resources to influence financial decisions about the Galilee Basin and Abbott Point, I’m happy to pass on a thorough list of companies and locations around the world that can be targeted through direct action tactics. This will create real costs and risk for companies right along the money chain. I’m also happy to pass on more specific tactics that cannot be detailed in print.

Generation Alpha is actively working to enact such tactics, to stop what would be the largest coal complex in the world. We’re planning to initiate active Earth First! groups in Australia, groups that will tell the truth and actively challenge power through effective direct action. We will help build a movement dominated by grassroots groups that will do what is effective and necessary, not ‘Big Green’ groups building safe and respectable empires.

Stay tuned for more on how you can really help stop coal mining in the Galilee Basin, really stop the Great Barrier Reef taking more abuse.  Sign up at the top right of this page for updates and you’ll see a true grassroots campaign launched with a bang later this year. Please agree, disagree or question us in the comments below. Contact us anytime.

And 350.org, we’re still up for that debate.




6 responses

2 09 2014

add this to your panacea of ideas that will never see the light of day, stop building these indoctrinate mcmansions build simple modest homes, where a candle will light the whole house, but the sunny coast yuppies will object, so with all the hype the poor subsidise unsustainable living practises

2 09 2014
Chris Harries

Well, I’ve obediently taken our savings from the CBA and put it into a so-called ethical scheme and presented the bank manager with a letter. And all this took a lot of time and effort. I hope at least the bank manager thought a little bit and about climate change.

The main problem with personal divestment actions, they are like boycotts. If hundreds of thousands of people did it they would have an impact. If just a few people do it it’s like an little itch to the corporation. Not game changing. It’s a rare thing to get more than a handful of people to participate.

Money can be regarded like electrons in an electrical system. How can you separate good electrons from bad ones? Good money and bad money gets pooled in the system and circulates around in all directions. No matter what we do with it, we don’t have a great say in where our dollar ends up. Still, it’s worth trying to be responsible.

2 09 2014

Why not use a bank that doesn’t support fossil fuel investment? I might not contribute all that much to their ability to finance new coal enterprises but why should I be party to it at all? Each time we purchase we vote (and each time we don’t we vote too) and each cent we bank sends a vote as well. I bank with Bendigo Bank and am in the process of closing my other bank accounts with FF suporting banks. We buy our power from Powershop – 100% green energy – and soon I hope to change my superannuation across to a fossil fuel free super company. My paltry amount of super won’t make my corrent super company weep but if 1000 of little me’s make a move then maybe they will notice. If 1000 high income earners with substantial super portfolios move their funds then the companies might make a change.
It takes many drops of water to make a river and although it takes many drops to change the direction of the river, in the end it only takes 1 drop to make the difference between the river remaining contained or breaking its banks.
It will take precious little to bring down the house of cards financial system and the sooner it happens the less our environment might well suffer. I am for anything we can do to make a difference.

2 09 2014

“I’m also happy to pass on more specific tactics that cannot be detailed in print.” – Ha, love it… CARPE NOCTEM!

9 09 2014

What’s also dangerous is radical talk like this in the current times of mass surveillance. Don’t be branded a troublemaker by the algorithms!

12 11 2015
Call to Action: Reclaim the Climate Movement | Post Growth Institute

[…] – so it makes sense to put your money where your mouth is. But divestment as a tactic is not without its critics, and questions need to be asked regarding how far it will get us, and how quickly it will get us […]

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