The Guardian as part of its divestment campaign published a series of letters from readers as the Wellcome Trust calling for it to divest from holdings in fossil fuels. I had a look and wondered what I would say…
Dear Wellcome Trust,
you and the Bill Gates foundation are probably the biggest private benefactors in the human health field today. We live in a world where its very difficult to make a difference to reducing our carbon footprint. This is one of the problems individuals face. What difference can the little changes we can undertake in our own lives make in the face as something as overwhelming as climate change? We can choose not to fly, cut our meat consumption, install solar panels and more insulation. All these I have done and yet we are apparently up against a new coal fired power station in China opening every week. The Wellcome Trust is not an individual though you are in effect a huge number of individuals. What you can do would have an effect. By divestment in fossil fuel holdings you would send a huge message. The fossil fuel age is over.
There are other reasons for divestment. As I wrote above the Wellcome Trust exists primarily to improve human health. The greatest threat to human health is climate change. Climate change will mean rising sea levels and climate weather chaos affecting harvests, as well as the threat of emerging new diseases for both humans and agriculture. You don’t need me to spell out the health implications of all that. Doesn’t it seem crazy to undermine your health effort by investing in something that is having the very opposite effect.
The remaining reason for divestment is financial. Are fossil fuels really a good investment any more? We have had nearly two decades of rising oil and gas prices as conventional supplies of oil have peaked. The problem is these high prices have set us up for expensive fossil fuels. Unconventional gas and oil cannot be produced at low prices and the easy cheap stuff has gone. At the moment there is enough of both with unconventional fossil fuels production from the US lowering prices massively. Going forward prices will rise but in all likelihood become very volatile with unpredictable effects on the global economy. Its unknown precisely what will happen but it maybe that prices will see saw up and down as recession caused by high prices alternates with boom caused by low prices. This outcome seems an unlikely to be a good investment now or in future.
Finally if there is a strong binding agreement on climate change the above will be meaningless all the fossil fuels will become worthless. In that case divestment will seem like a good move.