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Fossil Fuel Profits Decline with the Uprising of Renewable Energy

Series: Going Solar | Story 4

Last updated 6/1/2015 at 1:45pm

The benefits and costs of a fossil fuel-based economy have been with us since the industrial revolution. And with no viable alternatives, we were stuck with oil, coal, and natural gas for nearly all of our nation's energy needs.

But the world has changed, and energy sources with it. For example, according to published reports, the small Central American country of Costa Rica generated 100 percent of its electricity in 2014 from renewable sources – geothermal, hydro, wind, and Solar. The country hopes to go completely carbon-neutral by 2021.

Investment in 'green technology' has triggered the decline in fossil fuel investments, particularly for coal. According to The Economist, "growing energy efficiency, rising pollution worries and stiffer competition from other fuels mean that in most countries the tide is turning against coal. The Dow Jones Total Coal Market index has fallen by 76 percent in the past five years."

Two-thirds of coal-fired power plants proposed worldwide since 2010 have been stalled or cancelled. The Economist story also notes that the World Bank no longer invests in coal-fired plants. "Last year Norway's sovereign-wealth fund dumped its holdings in more than 50 coal companies worldwide." Because of the low demand, coal energy prices are expected to be depressed for years to come. And that affects national and institutional investing.

Entire countries like Costa Rica are divesting in fossil fuel markets for reasons of a public demand for environmental concerns as well as cost. Local, state, and federal investment groups are taking heed of the trend and putting their money where the future is.

The divestiture movement had it's beginning in 2010, when Swarthmore College called on its endowment fund to sell all shares in fossil fuel companies.

And now, five years later, one of the biggest drivers of the divesture movement in the U.S. and abroad is the worldwide "Re-Insurance" industry. The insurance industry directly bears the costs of climate change showing up in the form of property damage due to increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events, as well as long-term trends such as rising sea levels. And insurance businesses must pay the costs, so the re-insurers in turn insure them. And there is plenty of legal power with which to contend. Recently, Farmers Insurance Co., a unit of the Zurich Insurance Co., filed suit against the city of Chicago for its alleged failure to prevent flood-related damages that it says are associated with climate change.

So, it turns out, the worldwide public demands for reducing fossil fuel emissions helped spark investment in renewable technologies, partially but steadily replacing investments in coal and oil-based energy sources, leading to lower consumption in those sources and hence fewer emissions.

It's taken many years for the public clamor for change to reach the powers that be, albeit mostly for economic self-interest, but better late than never.

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