Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, is urging academic institutions and pension funds to divest their portfolios of stock held in fossil-fuel companies. Mckibben and 350.org have already enjoyed considerable success in the 10 months since the 350.org divestment campaign started. So far seven colleges, religious organizations and the cities of Seattle, San Francisco, and Providence have all agreed to divest from fossil fuels. Divestment bills are currently moving through the Massachusetts and Vermont state legislatures which control huge pension funds. There is also global support from places like Australia where a number of big pension funds portfolios are fossil-free. Here are some excepts from a recent interview McKibben did with Fortune’s Brian Dumaine.
Fortune: You have an initiative at 350.org that encourages universities and pension funds to divest themselves of stocks in companies that form the carbon economy. What are you hoping to accomplish?
McKibben: The biggest reason we haven’t taken action on climate change is that the richest industry on earth profits handsomely from carbon. Exxon (XOM) is the most profitable company in history. The fossil fuel industry has five times as much carbon locked up in reserves than even the most conservative governments say is safe to burn. So the industry will do anything to block anything that gets in its way.
Fortune: It’s not like you can put Exxon out of business.
McKibben: Before we can get reasonable climate change policy, we have to lessen the power of the fossil fuel companies to influence politicians through mechanisms such as Citizens United. The point is not that we’re going to bankrupt Exxon, but we’re going to politically bankrupt them by showing people how they’re on the wrong side of this issue. One way people have been able to stand up to corporations and make them change is to divest.
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