Coal Lobby Argument against
US Bank Divestment Rebuked

F

actual errors, omissions and word salad abound in Darren Bearson’s June 5, 2017 Morning Consult opinion piece, “Divestment Puts US Bank at Odds With Administration Energy Policy.”

Notes from the Road reviews and critiques this piece in detail, looking at each of the author’s claims.

Is U.S. Bank Placating Fringe Environmental Movements?

The author claims that U.S. Bank divested from pipelines due to a desire to placate ‘fringe environmental movements.’  Fringe implies unconventional extremism, but the organization that spearheaded efforts to encourage financial institutions to divest is 350.org, about as mainstream an organization as you can imagine.

350.org is spearheaded by Bill McKibben, the author of the well-regarded 1989 book, The End of Nature, among many others. He is considered one of the most respected voices in global environmentalism.  The organization he started, 350.org, has offices throughout the world and has conducted campaigns to curb carbon emissions in 188 countries. It's members sit on the boards of the largest and most successful businesses in the world.

By no measure could 350.org be called fringe, but ad hominem argument is a logical argumentative fallacy which does nothing to further the author's point.

Divesting from Dirty Fuel

Divestment is a legitimate arrow in the quiver of global efforts to shift to renewable fuels.

Thousands of hard-working Americans

The author claims that U.S. Bank’s divestment is an ‘an insult to thousands of hard-working Americans.’ Which hard-working Americans would that be, and why would they be insulted?  This author employs another logical fallacy; the fallacious argument from incredulity. They must be insulted, therefore bad!

It's not clear which Americans Bearson is referring to, but American power and energy jobs are moving toward renewable sources. In 2016, for example, only 160,000 U.S. jobs were in the coal industry, while 370,000 were in the solar industry, 130,000 in the bioenergy industry, 101,000 in the wind power industry, 76,000 in the nuclear power industry and 65,000 in the hydroelectric industry. By any account, the shift away from coal jobs means higher wages, better health and more job stability. While it may be true that the owners of horse and buggy carts were insulted as their industry was replaced by automobiles, the author's argument doesn't hold water.

The Author's Claim that Divestment Doesn’t Make Sense is Not Supported

Bearson claims to know more about investing than U.S. Bank, and offers them the advice that, “from a financial standpoint the call to divest makes little sense.”  He adds that “Voids in the marketplace are immediately filled by other investors.”

U.S. Bank operates with the advice of its shareholders.  Those shareholders hold modern, mainstream views on how divestment (literally, the opposite of investment, but actually a component of investment strategy) affects the bottom line of the bank.  These shareholders also have their own social and moral compass points.

When Bearson told U.S. Bank that divestment doesn’t make sense, surely, as an executive at the most prominent coal lobby in the United States, he must have known that this is not true.  For example, in 2016, global banks decreased lending by 22% from the previous year to the industries that produce the dirtiest carbon: oil, coal mining, coal-fired power, and liquefied natural gas.  And divestment for social or political reasons has a historical track record as well - just look at the affect of divestment on apartheid.

US Bank Divestment has paid dividends

Throughout 2017, US Bank has featured the news that it has been recognized as a global leader in ethical business practices. A clear sign of the dividends from ethical business practices, which include divestment from dirty energy sources.

Bearson’s Big Government Threat to Private Industry is Nonsensical

In a word salad mess, Bearson argues that “Since U.S. Bank fails to recognize the responsibility of a financial institution whose services are contracted by the government to pursue policies that benefit the citizens of the United States, perhaps it is time for the federal government to reconsider its relationship with U.S. Bank.”

Translation: Trump should punish US Bank for divesting from dirty energy.

The author, whose entire career has been spent working for federal government and lobbies to the federal government, perennially emanates the idea that the federal government can and should strong-arm private industry or limit new industries from competing with old ones. In his many editorials, he always seems to suggest that private industry should fall in line with the goals of the federal government if those goals match up with the lobby firm he is employed by at the time.

Why No Mention of Climate Change?

The weirdest thing about the author's articles about climate change issues is that they never mention climate change or even suggest the context of why the world is moving away from dirty fuels in the first place. This is a logical fallacy called argument by red herring. The author claims that private industry must get in line with the extremely unpopular positions of an unpopular president, simply because Postal mail trucks rely "on fossil fuels every day to deliver the mail."

The argument makes no sense. We all rely on fossil fuels, but we are divesting from them in order to modernize our infrastructure to be less dependent on carbon. That is the ultimate red herring: we all recognize that anthropomorphic climate change is the greatest challenge and enemy of mankind. We all know that we have to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in order to slow or eliminate the threat of man-made climate change. We all know that the Trump administration denies the reality of climate change, but that all other U.S. government entities, from the states to the U.S. military, all oppose the Trump Administration's views on climate change.

And even the Trump Administration's own scientists debunk the administration's dim views. A report released by the Trump Administration in November 2017 states, "It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century...For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence."

But the author gives no explanation for why the fact that post office trucks run on gasoline doesn't mean that it is not imperitive that the postal trucks of the future put less carbon dioxide in the air.

And while he states that divestment doesn't work, why was he motivated to write this article in the first place? Is it because he loves to talk about US Bank divestment, or because he is a lobbyist and/or consultant to proponents of dirty fuel? And if divestment doesn't work, why be worried about it in the first place? Why even write about it?

It's because divestment works, and we should all be divesting from dirty fuels in any capacity we can.