Divesting From Fossil Fuels and Leaving Them In The Ground

Two new major campaigns have emerged in recent weeks in the never-ending battle against human-caused climate change.

The first is an organized movement to encourage divestment of shares in fossil fuel companies. This had some success in the campaign against South Africa’s apartheid regime, although other factors (like the dramatic drop in gold prices) had quite a bit to do with it as well. Similar campaigns have not worked well against Israel or tobacco companies. The second ‘campaign’ is a more general exhortation to unite in forcing the world to leave fossil fuels in the ground unburned.

As I recently wrote, I have no problem with people or institutions reconfiguring their portfolio to move away from business sectors that trouble them. However, some of their additional justifications for doing so don’t really make sense.

They warn that fossil fuel reserves may become stranded assets as political bans against fossil fuels may at some point make the reserves inaccessible. Although there are no such bans at present, nor are any under consideration, I suppose that is possible.

However, India, China, Indonesia, Brazil and Mexico are not likely to sign on to such initiatives. Indeed, the use of fossil fuels is projected to double by 2040. Instead of assets being stranded, it seems clear they will be sweated.

For every shareholder looking to clear their conscience by selling their shares in Exxon, there will be a willing buyer who looks to the increased demand as an opportunity.

As for the idea of leaving fossil fuels in the ground, some are pushing this as a replacement meme following unsuccessful attempts to generate concern about concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere. It is a simpler, cruder campaign–Fossil fuels are bad. We must quit using them. There are X amount of tonnes of fossil fuels that we can use without exceeding our Carbon Budget–all the rest must lie untouched.


I don’t know why these campaigners would move away from science and towards bombast and politics. The Carbon Budget is an accounting fiction, much in the way 350 ppm and 2C were accounting fictions. It may just be a way of gathering fracked natural gas into the fold of condemned substances–I don’t know.

But the science behind the focus on CO2 concentrations is clearer and better understood. The Keeling Curve is the most trusted metric in the climate change debate. Sidelining it in favor of a mythical Carbon Budget is acknowledging only that you cannot make headway using science.

It’s a bad move.

I also don’t understand why climate activists want to let private companies off the hook regarding climate change. The owners of the big reserves of fossil fuels are predominantly national governments–70%, according to Forbes magazine. I wonder which government will be the first to abandon the billions they get from fossil fuels. Nigeria? Saudi Arabia? Kuwait? Russia? The U.S.?

Bear in mind that those countries that do not abandon fossil fuels will become even richer if some do. I don’t think incentives line up for success of this initiative.

Back to the drawing board, folks.


18 responses to “Divesting From Fossil Fuels and Leaving Them In The Ground

  1. The current AGW scam is the direct result of almost 500 years (1543-2015) of unwillingness of political and religious leaders to accept reality: Every atom, life and planets in the solar system was made by, and still controlled by the giant FOUNTAIN OF ENERGY Copernicus reported at the gravitational center of the solar in 1543 [1].

    Readers may appreciate this video on the beautiful, bountiful, benevolent home of mankind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6v2L2UGZJAM


    1. Oliver K. Manuel, “Solar energy,” Advances in Astronomy, submitted 1 Sept 2014, privately published 17 Mar 2015): https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/10640850/Solar_Energy.pdf

    • BS science started seventy-years ago, in 1945, but we didn’t suspect it until

      1. Climategate emails surfaced in late NOV 2009

      2. We listened to six years of official excuses for deceit!

      3. Information leaked out about unreported events during a news blackout in AUG-SEPT 1945, before nations and national academies were united into the (UN) and (NAS) on 24 OCT 1945.


      Stalin essentially won WWII and then expanded the boarder of the USSR by uniting the nations (UN) and national academies of sciences (NAS) into an “Orwellian Ministry of Scientific (UN)Truths” on 24 OCT 1945.

      That is the root of the problem facing society today.


      President Abraham Lincoln appointed a private, self-perpetuating group of distinguished scholars on March 3, 1863 the National Academy of Sciences to advise our government on matters of science and technology. The current NAS President, CLIMATOLOGIST Ralph J. Cicerone, reviews budgets of federal research agencies (NASA, DOE, NSF, EPA, etc.) for Congress.


      USSR’s Premier Joseph Stalin aka Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin (Ио́сиф Виссарио́нович Ста́лин) captured Japan’s Atomic Bomb Plant at Konan, Korea and the crew of an American B29 Bomber in AUG-SEPT 1945 and used his influence to unite nations (UN) and national academies of science (NAS) worldwide into an “Orwellian Ministry for Scientific (UN)Truths” on 24 OCT 1945. The current US NAS President, CLIMATOLOGIST Ralph J. Cicerone, reviews budgets of federal research agencies (NASA, DOE, NSF, EPA, etc.) for Congress.


  2. Eli Rabbet mentioned the divestment campaign is intended to highlight what he calls a moral issue. I believe they don’t think it’s going to work, other than it primes people for a top down government diktat to stop using fossil fuels.

    They are definitely trying to set up a top down bureaucracy to control fossil fuels. Here’s a quote from the Pope:

    “The same mindset which stands in the way of making radical decisions to reverse the trend of global warming also stands in the way of achieving the goal of eliminating poverty. A more responsible overall approach is needed to deal with both problems: the reduction of pollution and the development of poorer countries and regions. The twenty-first century, while maintaining systems of governance inherited from the past, is witnessing a weakening of the power of nation states, chiefly because the economic and financial sectors, being transnational, tends to prevail over the political. Given this situation, it is essential to devise stronger and more efficiently organized international institutions, with functionaries who are appointed fairly by agreement among national governments, and empowered to impose sanctions.”

    I wonder if Jeb Bush’s career may not have been ruined by this and other statements the Pope has been making in recent days? Belonging to a church with a radical “let’s have a world authority ” plus anti abortion and anti gay mindset may not get him lots of votes.

    • Fernando,
      After reading the latest piece of confused drivel from my Pope, I am even more distressed that my exile from the Catholic Church will be a long one.
      The level of reactionary ignorance the writer of that quote reveals is astonishing.
      I will return to the Catholic Church when the Catholic Church returns to being Catholic.

  3. Tom,
    The climate kooks are not leaving the science. They are shedding a mask.

  4. Peter Huber expressed the themes of this post better than anyone years ago. His points are still valid:


  5. Repeating most of what I just said on another thread, with apologies. Last paragraph is new:

    You seem to indicate that we can somehow stabilize the Keeling curve without leaving fossil fuels in the ground.

    Failing an actual substantive explanation that mentions sources and sinks and rates, and which explains why the consensus is wrong, it is hard to see this opinion as worth considering.

    The time scale of fossil carbon injection into the atmosphere/ocean system is much faster than the natural time scales of removal. Whichever country adds the carbon, it stays there for us to deal with, for practical purposes indefinitely. (The only alternative is actual removal of the carbon by artifice, which is likely to be expensive enough that adding the carbon in the first place is a bad move anyway.)

    That’s why the professionals working on this problem are convinced that controlling the concentration is pretty much the same as limiting net emissions to near-zero or negative. Which in practice, unless there’s a huge carbon capture effort on the scale of the existing fossil fuel industry, means leaving a whole lot of unburnt fuel in the ground.

    Anyway, artificial sequestration or no, STABILIZING concentrations is the SAME thing as lowering NET emissions to zero. There is nowhere for the emissions to go on a time scale that matters – they become part of the increase in the Keeling curve in a predictable way. So which language you use doesn’t matter. What we have to do is the same.

    Your complaints about the political difficulty of achieving this are, sadly, perfectly sound. But it’s plain that no plausible workaround is available.

    I agree with you that this can’t be achieved one country at a time. It’s a global problem and can’t successfully be achieved except by global action. This is indeed cause for pessimism – the incentives to defect from such an agreement will stay in place for a long time. Unfortunately the reality is set up as to leave no other choice.

    • My, do you assume the fossil fuel volumes used in rcp8.5 are correct? As far as I can see they are unsound. What I call anal extraction figures. Or are you using a different source.? For what it’s worth my own estimate leads to a 630 ppm peak. I’ve seen much lower estimates, as low as 550 ppm, using a realistic but more conservative fossil fuel reserve estimate.

  6. Huber’s video is interesting and worth watching.

    He expresses the Prisoner’s Dilemma aspect of the situation very well. His conclusion “chasing the impossible is never worth the money” is of course a tautology.

    But there are other players than individual economic interests and national economic interests. There is the interest of the whole world. And the collective interest at the global level is profoundly opposed to the sovereign national interests in a classic tragedy of the commons setup.

    Economically, leaving the carbon in the ground is a hugely losing proposition as long as there is no accounting for the diffuse but accumulating and persistent damages of fossil fuels. Specific interests will always look for ways to continue this lack of accountability. The market will continue to slowly but hugely damage our collective future as long as this accounting is neglected.

    Huber, like most people with an axe to grind, considers only one side of the ledger. So while most of what he says explicitly is right, his implicit selection of evidence is profoundly biased, and his conclusion is distorted by the blinders he is wearing.

    Others looking only in the other direction see the transition to carbon free fuels as an economic boon, which is, if anything, even sillier.

    The energy/climate future will be expensive, difficult, and disruptive. It’s too late to avoid that. The longer we pretend that it will be either non-existent or easy, the more expensive, difficult, and disruptive it will be.

  7. Here is my response from the other thread:

    I understand your argument in this case. Perhaps you do not understand mine.

    I do not object to leaving fossil fuel in the ground. I object to using it as a metric or as a goal in its own right.

    Consider arguments about biodiversity. We understand that our actions threaten biodiversity. But because we are incapable of quantifying the threat the argument cannot be resolved. When I (or Matt Ridley) say the principal threats are over hunting, pollution, habitat loss and introduction of alien species and Konsensus people say it’s global warming, we just spout at each other as we do on so many other climate related subjects.

    How many species are there? How many species have we actually witnessed go extinct since 1945? How many species existed in the period to which you wish to compare the present? How many species went extinct in a similar 70-year period. We cannot answer any one of those questions. At all. We do not know. Hence the conversation founders.

    The atmosphere is a common good. Fossil fuels are owned, 70% by governments. With some of these governments we cannot even agree that nuclear arms are not a good thing. With others we cannot even agree that invading your next door neighbor is not a good thing.

    These countries cannot even agree amongst themselves on how much to produce.They secretly produce more than their OPEC allotment and sell it clandestinely.

    Your plan, if it can actually be called a plan, would crown as winners those countries who did not follow its dictates. You would create the greatest black market the world has ever seen. You have nothing to offer the developing world as a ready replacement. You have not yet written of how you would ease the blow for industrial use of petrochemicals.

    We do not know how much fossil fuel lies in the ground. There is more than one type and they are used for more than one application. We do not know how much fossil fuel is required to increase the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere by 1 part per million. We are emerging from a historical period of extremely low concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere. There are many who are not yet happy at the idea of stopping, let alone reducing those concentrations.

    As with biodiversity, we do not know the denominator. We do not know the numerator. We do not know the rate of change. As a metric, (as with biodiversity) it will only be a partisan political tool.

    And you will not measure success by the amount of fossil fuel that gets burned nor by how much lies in the ground. Some of you will measure success or failure by global average surface temperature. Some of you will measure it by CO2 concentrations. Some of you will measure it by impacts on human health and well-being. And you will disagree with each other on these metrics and on our progress towards the several different goals that exist.

    We are all better off focusing on the Keeling Curve. It is the only metric in the climate conversation that both sides trust.

  8. Is there any level of extremist nonsense that will trigger a climate obsessed person to pause and wonder about their assumptions?

  9. The Keeling curve is essentially the integral of net emissions. Measuring how much carbon stays in the ground is not the issue. Measuring how much gets in the air is. And that’s exactly what the Keeling curve measures.

  10. mt and Tom,
    All snark aside, what do you think the CO2 increases, given the wide acceptance of Keeling’s work, has meant to the climate system?

    • Tobis just deleted my comment at his website and lied about what was in it. He’s no longer welcome here.

      • Tom,
        MT is interesting but sadly typical. He seems to know at some level that he should examine his assumptions. But the cost of an honest examination apparently frightens him

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