Going Fossil Free: Economic activism in climate campaigning

TitleGoing Fossil Free: Economic activism in climate campaigning
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Howard-Williams, R.
Affiliation (1st Author)Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania
Section or WGInternational Communication Section
DateWed 26 June
Slot CodeINCW4a
Slot Code (Keyword)INCW4a
Time of Session16:00-17:30
Session TitleMedia, Transnational Environmental Conflict and the Question of Agency
Submission ID5691

Panel: Media, Transnational Environmental Conflict and the Question of Agency, ref #4574 This paper looks at recent climate change activism, taking as a case study the ‘Go Fossil Free’ divestment campaign by environmental activist organisation 350.org, which encourages colleges and universities to sell any investments they have in fossil fuel companies. This campaign offers a contrast to other environmentalist interventions in the economic realm, such as the more individualist ethical investment and ethical consumption discourses which operate largely within the rules of the economic system. The divestment campaign highlights the ineffectiveness of individual action and makes the argument that turning fossil fuel companies into socially unacceptable investments will succeed in preventing the world’s carbon reserves from being burnt. Drawing from interviews with campaigners and textual analysis of campaign material along with related media coverage, this paper examines the discourses and strategies present in the campaign and reactions to it. While critics argue that university endowments should not be used for social purposes other than the immediate economic return they provide, the Go Fossil Free campaign draws on familiar repertoires of contention, especially (and explicitly) the 1980s divestment campaign targeting South Africa’s apartheid regime. Seen in terms of the ‘subpolitics’ defined by Beck (1992), this campaign is an effort to assert greater citizen-led democratic control over institutions currently outside the democratic process yet which have the power to profoundly shape the future of the planet. Through analysis of the discursive, organisational and technological facets of the campaign, this paper examines the prospects for broader challenges to dominant environmental paradigms.

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