So can divestment, I asked, be an effective strategy? Can it generate enough economic leverage to make a difference?

“I think it’s a way to a get a fight started,” Bill said without hesitation, “and to get people in important places talking actively about the culpability of the fossil fuel industry for the trouble that we’re in. And once that talk starts, I think it does start imposing a certain kind of economic pressure. Their high stock price is entirely justified by the thought that they’re going to get all their reserves out of the ground. And I think we’ve already made an argument that it shouldn’t be a legitimate thing to be doing.”

In other words, as in South Africa, as with Big Tobacco, there’s economic leverage in the moral case?


What, then, I wanted to know, is the “theory of change,” right now, in Bill McKibben’s mind?

“It’s not a question of coming up with the right set of policies,” he said. “Nobody’s really come up with a new set of policy stuff for 20 years. We just haven’t ever tried the things that the economists all told us to try, because the fossil fuel industry got in the way. So it’s about figuring out what power is in the way.

“Look, our job as organizers, our most important job, is to take the next step — throw a big rock in the pond, see what ripples it creates, and then figure out how to surf those and how to launch the next one. We think that if we’re able to explain to people what the fossil fuel industry is doing, it will weaken their position — weaken it morally, politically, and economically. And that will make more things possible than are possible now.”