Tag Archives: why divest

ExxonMobil & the New Stoyashchego

A few months ago I read Laura Hillenbrand’s book “Unbroken” about WW II veteran Louis Zamperini. (How is such a life possible?) Then last night we went to see Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies” about lawyer James Donovan and the swap that brought downed US pilot Gary Powers home in 1962. In one scene, Russian spy Rudolf Abel (played by the amazing Mark Rylance) tells a boyhood story about the “stoyashchego” (apparently loosely translates as “standing man”) – a neighbor who Abel’s father says to keep an eye on.  When a hostile militia overruns the town,  this man gets up every time he’s knocked down, resetting himself with steadfast determination no matter how many times he ends up on the ground. Zamperini is the most incredible real life example of this idea I’ve ever heard of. Stories like his are shining reminders – stories about wisdom and grace embodied in people who are otherworldly resolute.

Then, there’s Tim Conway and the rest of us.

Humans can also dupe themselves into ignoring facts and creating really dumb versions of reality. When it comes to global warming, some of the thinking is so mind-bendingly stupid you can only laugh. Like Senator Jim Inhofe using a snowball as a prop on the floor of the US Senate as he rambled on about the climate being just fine. Hello?

But, it’s impossible to smile when you read things like the recent articles by LA Times reporters and others who have been looking at Exxon’s decades of research on the climate. Like the VW diesel fiasco, the story is about very deliberate corporate behavior designed to obfuscate. The VW thing is incredibly sad – well beyond the very human act of simply making a dumb decision. Exxon’s behavior takes it to yet another level. The fact that Exxon was onto the global warming scenario in the 1970’s, and yet has actively worked to have everyone believe something else is not stupid. Given where we are, its beyond comprehension. “No corporation has ever done anything this big or bad” is how Bill McKibben sums it up in an article in The Guardian. Unfortunately, for the folks at Exxon and all their kids and all the rest of us, even that’s an understatement.

One can only assume that ExxonMobil is not the only energy company that decided that this strategy was a good thing.  So, what the hell do we all do? Simple – stand up and “be the change” you hope to see.

For starters, McKibben and the other stoyashchego (let’s go with “standing people”) at 350.org are asking the rest of us to sign a petition requesting that the US Department of Justice investigate ExxonMobil’s behavior. Seems like an excellent idea.

Then, if you’ve got a few bucks set aside in some mutual funds, take a quick look and see if you’re invested in ExxonMobil and its heavy hitter brethren (….it’s really easy to check). There are many better ways to invest your money. Money talks. Politicians listen.

After that – call your US congressional and state representatives and tell them to stop dragging their feet and start talking about solutions.

There’s no dress rehearsal for where we’re headed – the previews are over and the movie has started. Be the change.

Fossil Fuel Divestment Just Got A Whole Lot Easier

I spend a lot of time talking to people about divesting from fossil fuels – family members, friends, people at meetings and seminars – and the occasional random person who makes the mistake of asking what I do.  Most of these people are really concerned about climate change.  Its inspiring to hear that many have taken steps to reduce their carbon footprints. But, only a few people bring up that they’ve divested their investments from fossil fuels.

One problem is that the idea is only a couple of years old. Whether you have a few bucks tucked away for retirement or you’re a Shark Tank gazillionaire, there’s a 99% chance that your investments didn’t come to mind when you first started wondering about things you might do to help slow down global warming.

If you have heard about divestment, there’s also a 99% chance you heard that divestment flies in the face of conventional “wisdom” when it comes to investing. The pivotal barrier is the idea that there are supposedly only a few reinvestment options that are fossil fuel free.  And, by extension, that means that divesting is a financially risky thing to do. Here again, one problem is that the idea is new and any information hasn’t penetrated very far. The second problem is that, to the degree that there is discussion of divestment, much of the thinking is muddled or just plain wrong. Kind of like listening to Donald Trump talking about – well – just about anything.

A new website from the non-profit As You Sow will be a potent weapon in knocking this barrier down. Why?  Because, in a few seconds, you can check to see if a mutual fund has investments in the fossil fuel industry or not.

The goal of the divestment movement is to pull support away from the major fossil fuel companies and shine a big bright light on the nonexistent (or, depending on the country, woefully ineffective or just stupid) policy response to climate change. The tool’s “Carbon Underground 200” screening option allows you to see if your fund holds stock in the companies at global warming’s ground zero. The website also instantly lets people see that many diversified small-cap funds, many sector funds, and a whole bunch of other funds don’t hold these stocks.  Depending on how far future improvements go, the site will also eventually demonstrate that small and mid-cap exchange traded funds (ETFs) and many other mutual funds are inherently fossil fuel free.

Fund holdings information has always been publicly available, but few people are geeky enough to hunt for it. (Guilty as charged.) In the long run, the game changer here is that this tool completely blows up the notion that if you want to divest, you only have a few options. That includes many funds already available in company 401k plans.

Its important to point out that a leading group of forward-thinking investment companies were way ahead of the curve and created funds that are fully fossil fuel free by design, As divestment grows in popularity, the website will help get the word out about these funds, too.

What’s new here is that this tool makes it clear that the set of fossil free investment options is big.  Very big. And, that will draw a lot more people to the idea. The power of personal divestment is in the number of people who take the leap. For this side of the divestment movement to make a difference, we need people to divest and we need them ASAP.

Andy Behar and the smart, inspired people of As You Sow (and their partners) have just fired off the 21st century “click heard ’round the world.”  Thank you folks – nicely done.  (Wouldn’t it be great to see Steven Colbert, Bill McKibben and Andy checking out the site….Steven – you there?)

On Notice Again: The Latest From James Hansen

James Hansen is one of central figures in the scientific community when it comes to global warming. He’s been raising the red flag for more than 30 years. This week he and a group of highly respected scientists are releasing a new paper that puts all of us on notice – again. While the new projections are far from certain, the story line is consistent with a lot of other information that shows that changes are occurring even faster than people expected.

A quote from the article by Michael Oppenheimer (Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School):  “If we cook the planet long enough at about two degrees warming, there is likely to be a staggering amount of sea level rise. Given the state of uncertainty and the high risk, humanity better get its collective foot off the accelerator.”

And, who’s got the lead foot here?

For those of us in the US, besides bringing down our personal carbon footprints, it’s time for the silent majority to stand up and demand that the Congress toss aside the moronic arguments about climate change that keep anything from happening — and to call for our government to demonstrate intelligent leadership.

The call-to-action will have to come from many quarters. Divesting from fossil fuels is one of the most powerful ways for people to make their voices be heard because it ties to something that politicians pay attention to – Wall Street.

Climate Change, Divestment & Human Health

A few years ago, a rising tide of people argued that news organizations had rolled over and, without necessarily intending to, were helping skew the climate change debate in favor of the “merchants of doubt.”  Over the past few years, the pendulum has swung back and there is more media coverage of the facts on the ground. The latest observations and studies from the world’s scientists are being widely reported again.

So, at least in the United States, more people are again generally aware of what is happening and what is projected to happen – rising ocean levels, increased frequency and intensity of storms and the like. We’ve come back on track to where things were headed about a decade ago in terms of popular awareness. (Many of our fellow citizens on planet earth never took the side trip.) A clear majority of Americans believe that global warming is real, and are at least generally aware of the major environmental impacts.

But, whether you are American or from some other county, try this experiment. Ask people you know about the connections between global warming and human health. At best, some people have a sense of anticipated direct effects from extreme weather events – people in parts of India and Europe getting slammed by unusually long heat waves, or powerful tornadoes in the mid-western United States. Some will mention the problems with extended droughts in Africa and Australia. That’s probably about it. A recent study by the Yale Project on Climate Change indicated that only 18-32% of Americans understood some of the main human health implications of global warming. The gap in global warming human health literacy is incredible – but not surprising given the lack of media attention and the efforts of those who want to erase all concern.

Describing the projected impacts concisely is not straightforward. That’s because the number of angles is gigantic, and there are lots of interconnected loops and complex feedback paths. But, here’s a short-list of some major drivers and effects that public health and medical professionals note:

Water:

  • falling fishery  yields
  • regional water scarcity
  • access to potable water

Land:

  • falling crop yields
  • massive migration away from coastal areas
  • more frequent and severe wildfires
  • migration and shifts in insect populations

Air:

  • extreme heat events
  • more frequent and severe storms
  • rising ground level ozone

With a little bit of imagination (or spending some time looking at reputable work on the web), it’s not hard to guess how these things are really bad from a human health perspective. Some of the drivers amplify existing human health problems that people and communities already struggle with. Others create health crises where there weren’t any – with major challenges around food production and access to water leading the pack.

All this is additive to the more immediate direct health problems caused by burning fossil fuels in the first place. The experiences of the western countries with smog in the 20th century and the current pictures of what coal is doing to China make that pretty clear.

All these problems will first hit those least able to fight the effects: the elderly, the poor, the chronically ill, and children.

Tying this back to fossil fuel divestment, the moral argument around climate change and human health is obvious. As with other aspects of the divestment debate, there is also a powerful financial aspect. It makes far more sense to prevent the problem by lowering our global carbon footprint now – instead of creating an astronomical bill in the future to pay for all the health problems we will face.

The argument for divestment is about saving the environment. It’s about saving us. There is no space between. As Joanna Macy has said, “Our earth is not a supply house and a sewer. It is our larger body. We breathe it. We taste it. We are it.”

Hopefully, journalists and the media begin to step it up on this side of the story, too.  In the meantime – divest now.  And then tell everyone you know about it – including local and national media outlets, and your representatives in state and federal government. Tell them to get moving now. Money and votes make things happen.