Published online 15 February 2014.
News portion: (Claremont, California, 2/15/14): At about 3pm yesterday at Pitzer College in Claremont local students from the Claremont Colleges performed a brief piece of street theater and a short demonstration intended to promote a divestment campaign. The divestment campaign was aimed at requesting of Pitzer College that it divest its investment portfolio from fossil fuel stocks.
In the street theater presentation, students were arranged in a “puddle” wearing black, and a “pipeline” was extended into a local administration building so that it created a “picture” of an oil spill. Some of the students forming the “puddle” briefly stood up to explain the divestment cause. Afterward some Claremont Colleges faculty spoke to the small audience which attended the street theater.
Analysis: Events like this are always great. It doesn’t matter how many people are in attendance — practice makes perfect.
To argue that the student divestment movement will fail in its stated goals would be beside the point. As long as students are being told that “there is no alternative” to capitalism, and specifically to a capitalist system that runs a fossil-fuel-burning infrastructure, they should continue to ask (with proactive naivete) why capitalism can’t be any nicer than it currently is. If students are told (as one of the faculty speakers told them yesterday) that Pitzer should be able to divest from fossil fuel stocks without seriously endangering its net worth, then they should continue to demand just that. Whether or not it’s really possible is beside the point.
The excuse that is commonly used by colleges to dodge the divestment movement (I think this is the excuse the president of nearby Pomona College gave) is that the pension funds are composed of all sorts of stocks mixed together, and to get out of the ones that mix together fossil-fuel stocks would be too tough a financial risk for a college. Capital as a whole, then, might be too united to allow colleges to divest from its fossil-fuel sector. So when the colleges get back to the divestment movement and say, “sorry, we can’t divest because, y’know, capitalism,” the students comprising the divestment movement will then be freed to ask, with the same proactive naivete, “so why can’t we have an alternative to capitalism?”
In the end, the “we can’t divest” position is a position that says “all we can do is adapt to global warming.” It’s a very dangerous position, because only adapting to global warming while fossil fuel burning rages unchecked is a fool’s errand.
We live in a society of money, governed by the law of value. Everything and everyone has a price, and the “real owners of this country” (see e.g. this George Carlin routine) look at you as a catalyst for their profits. Worse, they look at the environment as a “free gift,’ which they take as they please when it benefits them and pollute as they please when to do otherwise would mean taking a loss. And they’ll probably continue to exploit this “free gift” regardless of how much damage it does to planet Earth, and it’s probably going to do a ton of damage before it’s finished. That’s what the law of value, and the society of money, and capitalism, are about.
Students are, in fact, in the colleges and universities today because of this law of value — the possession of a bachelor’s degree increases the “value” of their labor-power and so they can use said degrees to earn higher wages. Even so, people are not mere slaves of this law of value — not even college students, who even despite their lack of value are still capable of mounting a divestment campaign! We should encourage this.
The law of value, in turn, determines that the world’s current oil and coal and tar sands reserves constitute “assets” with so many trillions of dollars worth of “value.” Or at least this is what is in the minds of the world’s possessors of oil rights, and of their rich friends. It is unlikely that capital-as-a-whole will give up this “value” — remember, everyone, that a big, nasty war was fought because America’s slaves constituted too much “value” for the plantation aristocracies to give up the security state which protected slavery. So, yeah, if the divestment campaign notches a victory, good for it. The students will have achieved a major violation of the law of value. And if it doesn’t, something else will be on the menu. Go students!
Pitzer defers divestment decision (10/12/13)