Will Fossil Fuel Divestment Work Fast Enough to Save Us All?

mining aus

cartoon from the Sydney Morning Herald.

Des Pensable copyright 2014.

Last weekend in Australia was the first of a proposed series of Fossil Fuel Divestment days. The idea is to popularize the concept of people helping to fight Global Warming by moving their savings from  banks and superannuation funds that invest in developing new fossil fuel projects such as coal and coal seam gas mines to banks and superannuation funds that avoid investing in fossil fuel projects.

The rationale is that if enough people move their funds then it will have a three-fold effect. Firstly it will make people aware that their savings are at significant risk of being devalued by a sudden crash of the market in fossil fuels (a carbon bubble). Secondly it will signal to the fund managers in banks and superfunds to more carefully examine the RISKS of Global Warming to the planet on their investment portfolios and finally it will reduce the amount of finance available for new fossil fuel projects. In short, if we dry up the funding for fossil fuel projects, the projects will stop.

The Divestment day was successful as judged by the interest it has created in the mass media. Divestment has been widely criticised by Australia’s Global Warming denier government ministers and the Mining and Energy lobby through the media as bad for Australia’s fossil fuel industry. Regardless of this hundreds perhaps thousands of people and some significant organisations including religious organisations and the Australian National University announced they were divesting. On the positive side it’s started off a new fossil free investment industry.

The concept of divestment in fossil fuels is quite recent and has been developed as a key strategy to stimulate Global Warming mitigation by US scientist Bill McKibben worried about the inaction by the western world’s government leaders. He argued when you look at the maths we have to keep 80% of all the known available fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we are to keep the world average temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (2C) above the last century’s average. Others believe we have to keep it all in the ground.

The 2C was the limit set by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) who have stated that all the evidence predicts that if we go above this limit then the world will likely face seriously damaging consequences which include a high sea level rise; increase in the frequency and severity of storms; increase in droughts and floods; more frequent and severe bush fires; reduction of food supplies; an increase in environmental refugees; increased international conflict and mass extinction of many plant and animal species.

The evidence also concluded that if we allow the temperature to rise more than 4 degrees C then it could well usher in the end of human civilisation. Most of the world governments including Australia have AGREED with the IPCC’s findings and have signed a declaration to help stop the temperature rising above 2C but the progress towards meeting this goal especially by the main fossil fuel polluter countries has been incredibly slow. So slow in fact that unless things change DRASTICALLY almost IMMEDIATELY we will have a 4 to 6C temperature rise by the end of THIS century and quite possibly a 3C rise by 2050.

You might well ask if the world is flirting with doom why aren’t our leaders doing what they are paid to do. If you ask that question you have totally missed the point that evolution tried hard to instil in all its creations. Bill McKibben is a biological scientist and understood that individuals survive because THEY ACT. They don’t sit around waiting for others to act first. If you want to survive then YOU will need to act yourself.

He also understood that a large proportion of the US public are conservative people who not only don’t know or refuse to accept that their own survival is at stake but also won’t know how to save themselves. They rely on power figures like government or religious leaders through a mind controlling corporate media to tell them how and when to act or react. The situation is little different in Australia with our Murdoch controlled press. Divestment is a safe option for them.

If they are worried that Global Warming might be true then moving their savings from one bank or super fund to another is EASY, it reduces the RISK of financial loss and makes them feel that they have done something positive to solve the greatest crisis our planet has faced in the entire history of humanity. A crisis that we have created and could fix if we can find political leaders not owned by the fossil fuel energy industry that have the guts to do so.

So will divestment of your bank and superannuation investments save the world? Probably not but it will help focus attention on the problem, reduce your risk exposure from a carbon bubble calamity and act as a salve to your conscience, assuming that you have one. I read an article by a professor of international relations this week who stated quite blandly “We are under no obligation to leave this world a better place than we found it.” I found that appalling! The real question is “Do we have an obligation to stop those who wish to mindlessly destroy it?” and the answer to that is YES!

If you want to see humanity and the rich biodiversity of life that we all take for granted SURVIVE this century. If you want air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat you had better become an ACTIVIST and fight for YOUR loved ones’ survival. If you wait for others to do it for you…. you and your loved ones will probably not make it.

Thousands of ordinary everyday Aussies from all walks of life from all age groups around Australia are becoming activists – they are the new Aussie HEROES. They are fighting against Coal Seam Gas mining and the development of 91 new coal mines in Australia. They are fighting to save the Great Barrier Reef; they are fighting to get rid of our current Global Warming denier government criticised by even our closest allies.

Join them and help Australia do the right thing which is to keep most of our fossil fuels in the ground and move to a renewable clean energy future THEN help plan how to transform our whole society to one which is more sustaining and caring about our land and future.

If you liked this article you can read more on my Des Pensable web site.

You might also like :

Information on moving your bank or superfund saving.

An excellent slide show on divestment to show others.

10 myths about Fossil Fuel divestment.

Keep it in the Ground Campaign

Top Ten Best Divestment Stunts (2015)

The 2014 Australian Climate Action Summit- Success or Failure?

protect teh reef

by Des Pensable, (c) 2014

I went along with about 230 others to the Australian Climate Action Summit held in Brisbane over the weekend of September 20-21st with mixed expectations. As a Global Warming activist in a country considered globally as a part of the “Axis of Carbon (Evil)” I didn’t expect a great deal.

After all what can we do when our Federal government and many of our states are controlled by right wing conservatives who, in the face of the overwhelming evidence of the world scientific community, say Global Warming is “absolute crap” and market coal as if it’s the saviour of the third world. It’s akin to selling opium to the poor and telling them they’ll be better off while the drug peddlers get rich out of the death and misery.

The theme of the conference was on “Opportunities and Solutions” which sounds like sales pitch targeted at companies, while in fact there were very few delegates present from commercial companies interested in either searching for or selling solutions to Global Warming. The vast majority of the delegates were from activist organisations with a smattering of scientists among them to confirm the disastrous situation the world is in.

The conference opened with an address by Professor Will Stephen of the Climate Council who detailed the scientific side of the problem. Climate change is real and manmade. Climate change is affecting Australia right now.  The world is approaching a catastrophe of biblical proportions and we need to act urgently. Unfortunately, he carefully steered clear of criticising our government’s shameful ‘do nothing to help the world mitigate Global Warming’ attitude which is being widely criticised by even our closest allies in the USA and United Kingdom.

The session continued with an interesting talk on consumer activism. Basically it was advertising a new superannuation company set up to help mitigate Global Warming by helping people to transfer their savings to superannuation companies that don’t invest in fossil fuel projects. Later sessions discussed the pros and cons of fossil fuel divestment programs which seem to be ideal ways for the average person regardless of political persuasion to personally do something worthwhile to help mitigate Global Warming. At least in theory, the less money available to finance fossil fuel exploitation the less the problem.

The key Global Warming problem in Australia is of course the government. This was tacitly hinted at by the next speaker in the talk ‘Voices for Indi’. It was an uplifting story of how the electorate of Indi got their preferred independent pro Global Warming action candidate elected against huge odds by grass roots community action. It made a strong case that communities can force change in electorates by united action.

Later in the morning I was really moved by the two key speakers, Phillip Sutton co-author of Climate Code Red and Adrian Whitehead in the session entitled, “Why we need to radically change the way we campaign.” Their argument was that we are all failing to convey the urgency of the Global Warming problem. We are too nice, too restrained, too conservative. The problem is one of whether our world civilisation will exist in the near future or not.

They pointed out that while it is being argued that we have to keep 80% of the fossil fuels in the ground for a 50% chance to keep the Global average temperature below 2 degrees Celsius (2C), in actual fact we should be aiming for a 90% chance as current data suggests that even 2C is too high. At 2C we are likely to see the arctic ice cap melt which will add 2-3 m of sea level and possibly the release of massive amounts of methane from the permafrost. Our current mitigation progress will deliver a world 6 degrees C hotter which ALL the modelling studies show will lead to world ecocide, a massive extinction of species and a collapse of civilisation. In short, most of humanity WILL die.

They suggest that we MUST keep all fossil fuels in the ground and move to zero carbon emissions as urgently as possible by converting to 100% renewables. They both suggested we can’t keep telling people there is plenty of time to change when there isn’t.  On the positive side there is a feasible plan for Australia to go to zero emissions in less than 10 years if only it has the political will.

Later sessions explored what would be needed for zero emissions – the elephant in the room was exposed at last… agriculture is our biggest carbon emitter. We would need a total cessation of land clearing and a massive tree replanting program, a massive reduction of our sheep and cattle populations. Quite possible … but it’s hard to see any Australian government buying that! The cattle and sheep farmers would revolt and a large proportion of the people in the cities addicted to BBQs and beefburgers would need to become vegetarians. I’m looking forward to seeing that!

While there were a lot of talks, there were two that deserve special mention. The first was a live video presentation by British lawyer, Polly Higgins, who is a part of a group actively trying to get the crime of ecocide to be a part of international law. Humans depend on natural ecosystems for our life on Earth. It makes real sense that if sociopathic fossil fuel plutocrats are destroying the environment on which we rely to live, they can be treated as criminals and dealt with by the International Criminal Court. Of course there is a problem with this. The USA and China the biggest carbon polluter countries don’t recognise the International Criminal Court.

The second was a talk entitled “How do we get out of this mess? Introducing the European Union’s Third Industrial Revolution.” by Amelia Hicks and Chris Sanderson. It seems that while Australia has been kept in continual confusion about whether Global Warming is real or not by the Murdoch media, the fossil fuel industry and stone age politicians, the EU accepted the science years ago and has made workable plans to migrate its part of the world to a sustainable renewable clean energy future and has directed its members to act on it. Germany is seen as the flagship in how to convert to renewables and grow the economy.

The problem of course is the European plan depends on reducing the power of the companies, becoming more socialist and less capitalist, more sustainable and less materialistic, more sharing and less greedy, more humanist and less sociopathic. If I was a cynic, I would suspect that the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) and its European cousin the TTIP are the plans by the USA and big multinationals to emasculate the European plan.

On the second day of the conference there was a worldwide Peoples Climate March to support action to mitigate Global Warming. The Summit was suspended for 2 hours so that the delegates could march with the Brisbane group. The turnout for the Brisbane march was 3-5000 people which was considered by the locals to be a very good response. In Sydney they managed about 10,000 and Melbourne about 30,000 while in New York there were about 400,000.  So few trying to defend the world against ecocide.

In summary, the Climate Summit gave a lot of Global Warming activists and enthusiasts a chance to catch up; chat about their groups and pet projects; meet new activists and network. In short, it was about preaching to the converted. The problem totally neglected by the summit was what to do about our denier government.

While we have a government hell bent on proactively marketing coal and gas on behalf of foreign looters and polluters; a government that is against the use of renewable energy technology; a government that prefers profit over its people; we are slaves to an outdated failing neoliberal ideology and deserve to be ostracized by the world as greedy, selfish, sociopathic bastards.

I for one don’t like that image and strongly suggest we use all non-violent avenues open to us to protest and force a change in our government and its attitudes. If it means closing coal mines, planting trees and eating less meat – let’s do it and hope that it’s enough to help save our planet as it’s the only one we have.

see also

Seniors Action Guide to Global Warming

Quick Guide to Global Warming Reading List

More environmental articles by Des Pensable are on this web site.