Myth: the fossil fuel divestment campaign is asking investors to divest way more of their holdings than the South Africa Apartheid divestment campaign did… 

We’ve heard a few students and city groups say that when in conversations with their respective financial boards, they are told that the ‘ask’ is way bigger than any historical divestment campaign yet.  Essentially, the misconception is that the successful South Africa Apartheid divestment was minuscule compared to the proposition of fossil fuel divestment.

Here are the numbers: the fossil fuel divestment campaign, for most folks, starts at the 200 top publicly traded fossil fuel companies by size of reserves (measured in tons of CO2).  The S&P 500, a stock market index of the 500 largest publicly traded  US based companies is the standard representation of the overall domestic market. There are 24 companies from the 200 list found in the S&P 500.  That’s 7.86%. 

Depending on at what year you look at the S&P 500 during the South Africa divestment movement, the percentage of companies on the divestment list were as much as four times that amount.  At one point in the ‘80s, between one-half and one-third of the S&P 500 did business in South Africa.

So, to bust that myth once and for all, here is what you can say:
Fossil fuel divestment = between 7 and 10 percent
South Africa divestment (1980s) = between 30 and 40 percent