We need a consumer boycott on fossil fuels says Dale Vince, founder of green electricity company Ecotricity, because the divestment campaign on its own isn’t enough to end the demand for fossil fuels.
Vince, who has received an OBE for his services to the environment, adds that in addition to the divestment campaign and a consumer boycott we must eliminate government fossil fuel subsidies. “These three things together will get us to where we need to be,” he said.
Speaking at a Guardian Live debate on divestment last week, Vince argued: “Simply selling shares of a fossil fuel company doesn’t undermine its fundamental business plan. The problem is that we are all demanding fossil fuels and that is what underpins the business plan.”
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), fossil fuel companies are benefiting from global subsidies of $5.3 trillion (£3.4tn) a year. And in March, Chancellor George Osborne’s budget announcement gave new exemptions of more than £200 million a year to encourage exploration in the North Sea.
This is not to mention the everyday direct and indirect consumer purchasing of fossil fuels, from petrol to beef.
“That’s… a fundamental underpinning of the business model of fossil fuel companies,” Vince said. “So I think divestment, yes absolutely, but a consumer boycott I think is actually more important, and ending fossil fuel subsidies.”
Consumer choices play a big role in supporting fossil fuels Vince explained: “Energy, transport and food between them account for 80 percent of our personal carbon emissions… It means the power is much more in our hands – it comes from our pockets – than it is in the hands of government or Big Business.”
The green energy tycoon argued that it has become “a lot easier than it’s ever been” to stop buying fossil fuels, pointing to the growing availability green electricity providers as well as the rapid pace at which electric cars are entering the market.
“So the two big choices you can make right now are to use green energy and drive yourself around using [green energy].”
The influential economist Nick Stern, also speaking during the debate, agreed that the solution must go beyond just divestment.
Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, said that the best way to undermine demand for fossil fuels is to expose people to the proper price of fossil fuels – including hidden costs such as air pollution – through taxing carbon and ending subsidies.