Divestment is not an economic issue in terms of how it affects the oil companies. The economic impact is for the person who is dumping the stock. He is getting out of an industry that has been put on notice that they're going out of business.

In the last 10 years they're up 5% or 10% and the S&P 500 has tripled. It has been absolutely awful and I am proud to say that for those 10 years I've been saying, “Don't buy oil stocks.” Forget the ethics for a second. It's a bad economic idea. Going forward, if they rolled with the punches and they tried to redesign their business as an energy provider—rather than oil—they could do okay and get a decent return.

But they fight it. If you want to lose money in a capitalist system, that is how you do it. You underestimate the forces you're dealing with.

Which of the major oil and gas companies has the most potential to pivot?

The Europeans are always thinking greener thoughts, and longer-term thoughts, than their American brothers. The Americans have not been good at this stuff. They have held us back at least 10 years. Without that push back, we would be perhaps a leader in this field and life would be quite different.

The long term goal is to make them a pariah industry. It took us 20 years on tobacco. Until they were pariahs, politicians would not take a bite out of them. They had misrepresented the dangers of their product. They knew it was causing cancer, et cetera, and they denied it. Energy companies knew that oil was a dangerous product and they obfuscated it. It will take us a while, but they have to become pariahs.

What would you do about investments in the chemical industry?

I think chemicals are about to engage in a war of a thousand cuts. Plastics will get banned. The growth rate will become negative within five years, if not sooner. Sometimes these flashpoints are very rapid. Pesticides will be banned in enlightened countries and their health will immediately improve. Europeans already ban lots of chemicals. We do not.

When you sit down with foundations, endowments and other institutional investors, how have their attitudes shifted on climate change?

When I gave my first climate change talk at a GMO annual conference dinner 10 years ago, there was, to say the least, some eye-rolling. A few people who were visibly upset.