At this point, we think that the evidence is clear: Humanity’s 250-year reliance on fossil fuels, accelerating all the way, has driven Earth’s ecological balance to the brink. We understand that something needs to be done, and quickly, if we’re to prevent ecological collapse. But what needs to be done, when, and by whom? More and more people are answering: Divestment from carbon energy companies, now, and all of us.
Desmond Tutu is one of many respected voices calling the climate crisis a moral issue, comparing it to apartheid, and urging us all to act: “Who can stop it? Well, we can, you and I. And it is not just that we can stop it, we have a responsibility to do so.” And in the same way that divestment from companies doing business in South Africa put substantial pressure on the apartheid system, helping to bring it to an end, so too refusing to own the shares of companies that are contributing to the climate crisis can help to bring an end.
This weekend (February 13 & 14) we will see rallies, marches, and protests of various sorts and sizes, all around the world. Billed as “Global Divestment Day”, and promoted by 350.org and Greenpeace, the organizers are encouraging these protests in order to convey their key message: It’s time, they say, for everyone to change the way they invest — and to call on the big institutions (college endowments, foundations, pension plans, and the like) to change as well.
Institutional divestment appears to be gathering momentum, with high-profile organizations such as Stanford University, The New School in New York, and even the Government Pension Fund Global (Norway’s national “sovereign wealth fund”) making announcements that they have plans to divest from the worst of the carbon fuels (coal and tar-sands oil, for example). All three of these institutions, when asked why they chose to divest, pointed to the long-term risks facing carbon energy companies due to climate change. And the pools of money they have to work with are large enough to make a significant difference.
But even those of us with less money than Norway can make a difference. Some of our existing clients are asking us to divest their portfolios from carbon energy companies, and most of our prospective clients are at least asking if that’s an option. We created a group of “Zero Carbon Energy” portfolio models to meet the needs of those clients, and we can show our clients that the performance of those portfolios has been competitive with — even slightly better than — our similarly-allocated core SRI portfolios. Now, of course, past performance is never a guarantee of future results: there will be years in which the Zero Carbon portfolios do better, and years in which they do worse. But we’re confident in the research on divested portfolios, which shows that over the long haul divested portfolios will be just fine.
Not everyone is ready to divest from fossil fuels. But if you are ready, what can you do? Well, you can participate in the festivities in your area this weekend. Show the world how important this is! And you can divest your personal assets. If your nest egg or retirement savings isn’t already invested in a carbon-energy-free way, now might be the time to make that change. Find out if the 401k plan administrator at work can add some carbon-free funds to the options. Perhaps most importantly, you can ask the institutions to which you’re giving time and money what they’re doing with their assets. The advocates at the Responsible Endowments Coalition have lots of resources to help your get started talking to your college or university, for example. If they are not ready to divest their endowment, you might consider making your next donation through the “donor advised fund” at the “Multi-School Fossil Free Divestment Fund”.
If you’re ready to divest from fossil fuels, you can. Let us know if we can help.