Advertisements

Investors are Fleeing Fossil Fuels in Droves

When Bill McKibben and 350.org spear-headed a campaign to divest from fossil fuels and go 100 percent renewables as part of a multi-pronged strategy to confront ramping harms from global climate change in 2012, the big push-back was “divestment doesn’t work, it’s just feel-good, someone else will just buy the stocks when prices drop.”

The Green Mouse That Roared

As if where individuals, banks, investment firms and governments put their money doesn’t matter. As if monetary policy at all levels isn’t an enabler of energy and climate policy. As if the world were awash in an infinite flood of money. As if capital just magically grows on trees.

The detractors clearly didn’t get it. They’d already lost the argument. But the ultimate realization would take years to materialize.

The divestment movement wasn’t so much about the short-term, day to day, flux of money on the financial markets. It was instead aimed at triggering a long term mega-trend. The movement did this by shining a light on the intrinsic immorality of fossil fuel burning. By changing the terms of the environmental debate to include such objects as financial risk and stranded assets. By meeting investors on their own intellectual turf on a daily basis. And by revealing to them the very serious and real risk of loss they were exposed to by pumping money into an energy source that produces widespread, ramping and systemic harm.

A long game that is presently gaining some very significant traction. For it appears that Bill McKibben and the various proponents of the divestment movement have managed to outflank the fossil fuel industry on what was, hitherto, intellectual and financial ground under their unquestioned control. They became, all of us involved became, the green mouse that roared.

(The divestment movement helped to shine a light on the various glaring financial risks involved in continued fossil fuel burning. A primary issue being that due to damage caused by climate change, losses to the whole financial system would eventually greatly outweigh gains. At which point, sunk fossil fuel assets would become stranded due to investor flight. Image source: Carbon Tracker.)

From EcoWatch:

We used text analytics software to sift through 42,000 news articles about climate change between 2011 and 2015 and map the influence of the radical flank. In this analysis, we found that the divestment campaign expanded rapidly as a topic in worldwide media. In the process, it disrupted what had become a polarized debate and reframed the conflict by redrawing moral lines around acceptable behavior.

Our evidence suggests this shift enabled previously marginal policy ideas such as a carbon tax and carbon budget to gain greater traction in the debate. It also helped translate McKibben’s radical position into new issues like “stranded assets” and “unburnable carbon,” the idea that existing fossil fuel resources should remain in the ground.

Although these latter concepts are still radical in implication, they adopt the language of financial analysis and appeared in business journals like The EconomistFortune and Bloomberg, which makes them more legitimate within business circles.

Thus, the battle cry of divestment became a call for prudent attention to financial risk. By being addressed in these financial publications, the carriers of the message shifted from grassroots activists to investorsinsurance companies and even the Governor of the Bank of England.

Mass Divestment Underway as Climate Change Impacts Worsen

Today the world is starting to wake up, bleary eyed and hung over from tar sands smog, to the reality that climate change is poised to eat everyone’s lunch. The U.S. has been hammered by not one, not two, but three $100 billion dollar plus hurricanes. All of those storms were made worse by climate change and one — Harvey — was found to be three times more likely due to the heat trapping gasses fossil fuel based industry has collectively pumped into the world’s atmosphere. With the Thomas Fire threatening to burn down Santa Barbara in December, California is reeling from its worst fire season on record. And glaciers from Greenland to Antarctica are teetering at the brink — ready to inundate the world’s cities at rates far faster than previously expected with only just a bit more added fossil fuel trapped heat.

(How investments in fossil fuel based industry generate carbon emissions. Image source: Carbon Tracker.)

That’s with global temperatures at only 1.1 to 1.2 C above 1880s averages. Keep burning fossil fuels and we’ll hit 3 to 7 C or more by 2100. And folks already feeling the pain of lost financial stability, lost homes, or forced displacement are starting to cry uncle.

Some of the investors holding the fossil fuel industry’s purse strings appear to have had enough. AXA Equitable CEO Thomas Buberl this week stated: “A 4 C world is not insurable.” The major financial and insurance firm has pledged to invest 10.6 billion in environmentally friendly projects and to move 4 billion in funds out of fossil fuels by 2020.

But AXA isn’t the only one by far. Other banks, firms, and share holders are realizing in droves that investing in that 4 C world by throwing more money at fossil fuels isn’t worth a darn either. The World Bank just announced it will stop investing in upstream oil and gas projects by 2019. This after resisting appeals to divest for years. The 23 large regional investors of the International Development Finance Club, who hold 4 trillion in assets, have agreed to align their procurement with the goals of the Paris Climate Summit. Dutch ING bank has announced that it won’t fund any utility that relies on coal for more than 5 percent of its energy.

Meanwhile, an umbrella group managing 26.3 trillion dollars in assets is directly targeting the world’s top 100 carbon emitters. The group — called Climate Action 100 — comprises 225 pension funds and other investors. And it aims to get the world’s worst carbon emitters to curb their greenhouse gas pollution and to disclose their climate change related risks to share holders. Oil, gas, coal, cement, mining and major transportation players are all in Climate Action 100’s sights.

(Renewables possess superior economics in a number of key facets. 1. They have a positive learning curve — the more you build the less they cost. 2. They reduce healthcare costs to society and increase productivity. 3. They reduce ramping systemic harms from climate change by replacing fossil fuel burning. Image source: Union of Concerned Scientists.)

The shareholders from Climate Action 100 have effectively drawn a line in the sand. If these top emitters fail to act to reduce their carbon pollution, then the investors from the group will move their money elsewhere. Effectively, this action is directly from the divestment playbook. But it is now one that lives entirely in the realm of global finance. In other words, divestment is no longer just an environmentalist thing. Global finance, to a rising degree, is being infused with rational environmental thought to the point that it owns it.

Mindy Lubber, President and CEO of Ceres notes in an interview to Motherboard:

“These investors are the largest owners of companies and they see climate change as a serious threat to their investments and the global economy. They believe it is imperative these companies move away from high-carbon emitting activities. Such companies [top 100 emitters] are unlikely to have economic success [if they don’t adjust to the reality of climate change].

Strong Renewable Energy Economics Mean Investors are No Longer Captive to Dirty Energy

This push for divestment from fossil fuels and holding fossil fuel industry accountable by many of the world’s wealthiest banks and firms comes as renewable energy is making major gains. Solar and wind energy are now less expensive than coal or even gas in many markets. The price of electrical vehicles is falling even as these non-emitting forms of transportation are becoming more capable than traditional ICE vehicles. And the price of related battery storage is also plummeting. So it’s not as if there is no viable alternative to dirty and dangerous fossil fuels. In fact, the alternatives are much more attractive on their own merits. Investors have options at hand to confront climate change. So do the rest of us. And that whole divestment thing that was nonsensically poo-pooed by naysayers — it’s becoming as ubiquitous as oxygen.

CREDITS:

Hat tip to Bill McKibben

Hat tip to EcoWatch

Hat tip to Miles H

Advertisements

Sweden Aims to be Carbon Neutral by 2045; Largest Pension Fund Ditches Climate Bad Actors

In a stunning victory for clean energy and climate progress, Sweden this week overwhelmingly passed a law that fully commits the country to carbon neutrality by 2045. Meanwhile, Sweden’s largest pension fund has divested from corporations it identifies as violators of the Paris Climate Accord. As a wise person recently said (see featured comment below) — this is “what real climate leadership looks like.”

Beating a Fast Path to Net Zero Emissions

Sweden’s most recent climate law, which flew through the Parliament by a 254 to 41 margin, aims to have the country producing net zero carbon emissions in less than three decades. This new measure moves the date for Sweden’s carbon neutrality forward by 5 years from 2050 to 2045.

Already a climate leader, Sweden presently gets about 85 percent of its electricity from hydropower, wind and nuclear energy. Across all sectors of its economy, Sweden has achieved the goal of 50 percent renewable energy fully 8 years ahead of schedule. The new measure doubles down on this already-powerful trend by further trimming carbon-based electrical generation while shifting larger focus to carbon emissions cuts from the transportation sector.

(Swedish electrical generation is dominated by hydro, nuclear, and wind power. Sweden aims to remove fossil fuels from electrical power generation while shifting transportation to EVs and biofuels by 2045. Image source: Electricity Production in Sweden.)

In order to achieve carbon neutrality, Sweden is pushing hard for rapid electrical vehicle adoption, switching remaining liquid fuels to biofuels, and to completely phase out its ever-dwindling margin of fossil fuel power generation. The result of these policies would be a country that primarily runs on renewable and nuclear power generation and that uses EVs and other alternative fuel vehicles for motorized transportation. Ultimately, Sweden aims to cut its presently low carbon emissions by a further 85 percent all while planting trees and developing carbon sinks to offset the rest by 2045.

Divesting From Climate Bad Actors

In a related move, Sweden’s largest pension fund, which manages the pensions of 3.5 million Swedish citizens, decided to divest money from various climate bad actors. The fund, AP 7, announced last week that it would pull investments from six corporations that it identified as being engaged in various violations of the Paris Climate Summit. These companies included: ExxonMobil, Westar, Southern Corp, and Entergy for fighting against climate legislation in the United States, Gazprom for oil exploration in the vulnerable Arctic, and TransCanada for building pipelines across North America despite widespread local opposition and obvious long-term climate impacts.

(AP 7’s divestment from climate bad actors is a major win for climate action advocacy groups like 350.org which nobly aim to leverage mass social, political and protest action to help spur a transition to 100 percent renewable energy in an effort to prevent serious global harm from climate change. Image source: 350.org.)

These moves were praised by climate action advocacy group 350.org’s Jamie Henn, Strategic Communications Director for the global grassroots climate movement, who stated:

“Sweden divesting its largest pension from Exxon proves you can’t claim to support climate action while funding and perpetuating climate change. Exxon knew about climate change half a century ago, and continues to sow doubt and bankroll climate deniers. With its core business model dependent on exploiting people and planet for profit, Exxon is in direct violation of the Paris agreement.”

Responsible Climate Action by Sweden

Sweden’s latest moves cast light on various agencies who have done so much to slow the pace of a much-needed response to climate change and a related energy transition while putting serious legislative muscle behind carbon emissions reductions. It’s a major win for the divestment and climate action movements — further calling into doubt the viability of a number of businesses who’ve predicated their future profitability on wholesale global harm. Sweden, by both moving forward its date for carbon neutrality and by moving large pension funds away from direct capital support of the fossil fuel industry continues to set an example for all by vividly underlining how decisively the rest of the world needs to act to catch up.

Links:

Sweden Commits to Becoming Carbon Neutral by 2045 With New Law

Sweden’s Largest Pension Divests From Paris Accord Violators Including ExxonMobil and TransCanada

Electricity Production in Sweden

350.org (Please Support)

Featured Comment:

“A Harbinger of the End of the Fossil Fuel Era” — Coal Production, Exports Plummet as Peabody Energy Declares Bankruptcy

“Peabody Energy’s steep decline toward bankruptcy is a harbinger of the end of the fossil fuel era … Peabody is crashing because the company was unwilling to change with the times, — they doubled down on the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, and investors backed their bet, as the world shifted toward renewable energy. They have consistently put profit over people, and now their profits have plummeted. Our world has no place for companies like Peabody.” — Jenny Marienau, U.S. Divestment Campaign Manager of the environmental group 350.org, in a recent statement.

****

Jenny Marienau of the climate disaster prevention group 350.org is certainly right about one thing. A healthy world. A world full of life and of prospects for all people, all living things. A world that avoids the worst impacts of a terrible climate disruption on the road to a hothouse mass extinction. In this, far more hopeful, world there is no place for companies like Peabody Energy. Companies whose profit-making and related accumulation of a corrupting political power and influence is entirely dependent on locking in an ever-worsening global crisis.

STRIP_MINING_ON_INDIAN_BURIAL_GROUNDS_BY_PEABODY_COAL_CO_-_NARA_-_544109

(Peabody became infamous for its destructive strip mining efforts that transformed beautiful and treasured lands into toxic, lifeless moonscapes. Here, a Peabody crane scoops coal out of the Nara strip mine which was also the location of a sacred Native American burial ground. Continued fossil fuel burning will ultimately have a similar beauty and life-denuding effect on the whole of the global environment. Image source: Commons.)

Coal’s Moral and Economic Bankruptcy

Today that company, representing the largest coal interest in the Western World, declared bankruptcy. An optimistic announcement that comes amidst a swift sea change and a precipitous contraction in the global coal industry. One that, if world-wide public, private, protest action, and individual efforts to reduce carbon emissions on the back of 200 nations reaching a landmark global climate agreement in Paris continue in force, may well be a beginning of an end to the fossil fuel energy era.

With each passing day, that start of an end becomes more and more visible in what appears to be an ongoing global coal industry collapse and retrenchment. In three of the world’s largest coal producing and consuming regions — India, China, and the US — production, imports and exports are down. In the US, coal production has fallen by more than 50 percent since 2008. Meanwhile US coal exports plummeted by 23 percent in 2015 alone. In China, coal consumption is reported to have dropped during both 2014 and 2015. This drop comes as this world’s largest current greenhouse gas emitter has announced an expanding array of bans on coal burning for its highest polluting power plants and a cessation of coal plant construction in 15 of its provinces. In India, one region that coal backers had looked to for expanding consumption, coal imports are also down.

The broadening contraction in coal has forced bankruptcies not just for Peabody, but for other major American coal players like Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources. A devastating wave for a climatologically destructive industry that appears less and less likely to survive in any form resembling its former might.

The Supertrend That’s Driving Coal’s Downfall — Mass Protest, Divestment, The Rise of Renewables, Policy Push to Prevent Climate Change, and The Switch To Gas

It’s all a part of an emerging supertrend that is being reinforced along many fronts. The first of which involves a broad global protest action against new coal plant construction and wider fossil fuel based energy itself. Led by key groups like 350.org, Greenpeace, and the Sierra Club, these critical actions have targeted construction sites, pipelines, railways and mines. In addition, a comprehensive divestment campaign spear-headed by 350.org has targeted capital flows to the fossil fuel special interests. In this campaign, investing firms and institutions are faced with a call to moral action. A call to shift resources away from the fossil fuel-based companies that profit by locking in the ever-worsening impacts of climate change. In most cases, coal divestment is seen as the low-hanging fruit in these efforts. The coal companies produce the highest level of fossil fuel based carbon pollution per ton of fuel burned, are among the biggest threats to clean air and clean water, and are the most financially at risk entities among the fossil fuel based polluters.

Such campaigns against coal would be toothless without readily available alternative energy sources. And during recent years, clean substitutes for coal like solar and wind energy have become more and more accessible. Market prices for both resources have plummeted to the point where either can now compete directly with coal in most major markets. A fact that was brought into stark contrast this year when the cost of a newly constructed Indian solar power station fell below the cost of a newly constructed Indian coal plant fueled by imports. Solar energy in particular has been surging by leaps and bounds with India alone planning 100 gigawatts of new solar powered generation in just six years — a level of construction that will inevitably take a big bite out of what appears to be the last remaining major energy market where coal could potentially expand. In effect, what we are seeing is coal being crowded out by far more benevolent and increasingly competitive wind and solar based energy systems.

US Coal Production Eports Down

(US coal production has plummeted since 2008 in the face of rising renewables, increased use of gas, and falling overseas demand. Global trends seem to indicate that the US coal market is a microcosm of the larger shift in the international energy trade — one that has been driven by a broad-based effort to reduce carbon emissions and impacts related to a human-forced warming of the world. Image source: Clean Technica. Data source: US EIA.)

In many nations, drives to increase the rate of renewable energy adoption have been put at logger-heads with the special-interest funded bodies supporting polluting legacy fossil fuel generation. In the US, republicans have become infamous for their pro-coal, drill-baby, drill, anti-renewables, climate change denial political stance. But despite a well-funded effort by fossil fuel industry to lock in carbon pollution and climate disruption by stacking the political deck, policies aimed at confronting climate change have continued to advance. The Paris Climate Summit, though the object of much criticism, produced the strongest global climate treaty yet. And the broader effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has now been reinforced by a growing number of cities, states, and nations who now realize that continuing the current massive carbon emission is a hazard to their ongoing existence. Coastal cities and nations facing worsening sea level rise, states in expanding drought zones, regions stricken by water insecurity and increased crop damage, cities, states and nations dependent on healthy oceans for tourism and seafood, regions confronting waves of persons displaced from drought-stricken nations, and cities, states, and nations in the path of increasingly severe weather have all both quietly and loudly fought back — pushing the necessary cuts in hothouse gas emissions forward. These key stakeholders — who basically represent all of the rest of the non-fossil fuel interest world — are starting to realize that the carbon industry, though excessively influential, is not all-powerful. And they are starting to more effectively wield their own, far more just, influence in an attempt to reduce the climate harm that is now setting in.

Within the fossil fuel ranks there is also division. Even among the fossil fuel players there appears to be an acceptance that coal is on its way out. Messaging coming from the fossil fuel industry appears to have shifted to support of the still very harmful natural gas and for a new global fracking campaign. In essence, what we observe is that the oil and gas interests, including the new fracking interests, have basically maneuvered in a way that effectively throws coal under the climate change response bus. Coal is tougher to greenwash than natural gas and the spearhead campaign against coal as the worst of the worst among carbon polluters has proven undeflectable. This has been especially true in the UK where even conservatives are aiming to shut down coal plants (while continuing their harmful efforts in support of fracking and aimed at suppressing rates of renewable energy adoption).

Preventing Ever-Worsening Harm — Why The Fossil Fuel Era Must End as Soon as Possible

With today’s Peabody bankruptcy declaration, and in light of these observed trends, it’s becoming more and more apparent that the global energy game has changed and that the political and economic power of coal is fading. A positive shift to be certain. One that will help to reduce global carbon emissions. But we should remember that the current human greenhouse gas emission is now ten times faster than during the last hothouse mass extinction event 55 million years ago. And the only way to greatly reduce that terrible spewing of heat trapping gasses is to not only completely cut out the coal emission, but to also remove the major atmospheric carbon contributions coming from a massive burning of both oil and gas. To this point, we should work as hard as we can to help make Jenny’s prediction above a reality. For we desperately need the end of the fossil fuel era to happen soon.

Links:

A Harbinger of the End of the Fossil Fuel Era (Please Support 350.org)

The Western World’s Largest Coal Company Declares Bankruptcy

US Coal Production Continues Plunge

China Expands Coal Ban

Sans a Swift Switch to Renewables, Dangerous Climate Change May Be Imminent

COP 21

Greenpeace

The Sierra Club — Beyond Coal

350.org — Divestment

US Energy Information Administration

Peabody Strip Mining on Indian Burial Grounds

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

 

 

Dangerously Beyond 350: CO2 to Remain Above 400 PPM For Most of 2015

For 2015, CO2 levels will remain above the dangerous 400 parts per million level for almost 2/3 of the year. A perilous new record for a human-warmed world.

The last time global CO2 levels averaged above 400 parts per million was more than 3 million years ago during the Pliocene. A period that was just beginning to see the dawn of humankind (Australopithecus emerged about 2.5 million years ago). It was a world of 25-75 foot higher seas. A world where much of Greenland and West Antarctica was ice free. A world that took hundreds of thousands of years to settle into its climate patterns.

2014 Begins at 400 ppm +

(A bad start of 2015 — CO2 levels on January 1st exceeded 400 PPM. Most of the year will see levels in excess of this dangerously high atmospheric value. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

But the current human tool-using species that is now warming the Earth so drastically would have to wait for about 2.8 million more years and for far cooler climes to develop. And that species would set conditions for a rapid shift to climate states not seen for 3 million years in just decades through a hellish pace of fossil fuel burning.  For in just one century we’ve propelled ourselves back to that deep time. Back to a world climate state that is entirely alien to what we, and so many other animals, are accustomed to.

For this year, human fossil fuel emissions will push 2015 to reach or exceed those 400 ppm levels for around 7-8 months running. By 2016, it’s possible that 300 part per million levels — the ones that dominated our environment for most of the 20th Century — will be little more than a melancholy memory as humans face off against a series of increasingly dangerous  geophysical changes.

All set off by the inexorable burning of fossil fuels. A malpractice that simply must stop.

An All Too Steep Ramp-up Toward The Hothouse

Current human fossil fuel burning coupled with a few, still somewhat contained, environmental carbon feedbacks are enough to push an annual atmospheric CO2 increase of 2.2 parts per million each year. It’s a pace of initial greenhouse gas heat forcing never before seen in all of Earth’s geological past — even during the greatest global hothouse extinction events. The fruits of dumping 36 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each and every year.

petm_vs_modern_emissions

(Rate of carbon emission at more than 30 billion tons of CO2 each year vs the PETM [Note that WeatherUnderground has erroneously labeled CO2 as Carbon in the graph]– which was the most recent hothouse extinction 55 million years ago. It’s enough to push an atmospheric temperature rise on the scale of a mass extinction over the course of decades rather than millenia. It’s also worth noting that with CO2 emissions at 36 gigatons in 2013 [vs the above graph results from 2010] and CO2e emissions just shy of 50 gigatons this trajectory is even steeper than the graph depicts. Image source: WeatherUnderground.)

As a result, if current rates of burning continue or increase, we will see 450 parts per million levels well exceeded within about two decades. And that threshold will undeniably lock in at least 2 C worth of warming together with a growing carbon feedback from the Earth System itself.

484 PPM CO2e For 2015

But this drastic pace of atmospheric greenhouse gas additions doesn’t tell the whole story. For if you add up all the other gasses humans have dumped into the atmosphere, all the methane and HCFs, all the industrial chemicals, you end up with a CO2 equivalent number (CO2e) far greater than the present CO2 measure. And that CO2e measure is set to hit 484 parts per million this year (With a nearly 50 gigaton annual increase in CO2e gasses each year). A level that, if it correlates with past climates, will push warming by 1.9 C this century and 3.8 C after the entire Earth System responds. A level not seen in at least 13 million years.

A rather terrible situation to say the least. For at these levels, even the great ice sheets of Antarctica proper were much reduced and sea levels were 85-120 feet higher than they are today. And continuing to burn begs the very worst hothouse extinction consequences that come from wrecking the world’s oceans.

Very Hard Work to Get Back to 350 PPM

Near the end of the first decade of the 21st Century Dr. James Hansen, former head of GISS at NASA advised the world community that the likely safe level of global CO2 was below 350 parts per million. This assertion flew in the face of some in the international community who were pushing for an established ‘safe’ level of 450 parts per million and below. A level, of course, which would allow for the burning of quite a bit more of the world’s fossil fuel reserves.

But Hansen wouldn’t compromise. He felt it would be a betrayal to future generations. To his grandchildren. To all our grandchildren. So he set the safe limit at 350 parts per million with the caveat that we may need to reduce it further.

In 2008, during the year Hansen set the 350 parts per million level, CO2 levels peaked at around 386 parts per million. For 2015, just 7 years later, levels will peak at around 404 parts per million. A rampant increase directly in the wrong direction.

In order for rates of CO2 increase to begin to taper off, the world simply must stop burning so much in the way of fossil fuels. And even a full cessation of fossil fuel use would still result in some emissions unless both farming and construction were altered to reduce carbon emissions. Beyond this, atmospheric carbon capture through various methods to include fixing carbon capture and storage facilities to biomass generation and other land use and chemical based techniques are the most likely to be effective.

Such a transition and change is as difficult as it is necessary. For the world as we know it simply cannot continue along its current path. Hansen was right and we should have listened 7 years ago. We should have listened in 1988 at his first major climate hearing. But we didn’t. And so valuable time was wasted.

Let’s not make the same mistake in 2015.

Links:

The Keeling Curve

2015 Begins With CO2 Above the 400 PPM Mark

WeatherUnderground

2013 CO2 Emissions Will Set Record High

A Faustian Bargain on the Short Road to Hell: Living in a World at 480 PPM CO2e

Scientific Hat Tip to Dr. James Hansen and Dr. Ralph Keeling

Rockefeller Fund Joins Global Movement to Divest Fossil Fuels and Invest in Renewable Energy

Carbon Bubble 2

(Flood Wall Street protesters tote a massive carbon bubble into the center of global capital on September 22, 2014. Image source: Here.)

When you consider all the money and resources going into what many are now calling the carbon bubble, it’s just staggering. Annually, over 650 billion dollars are poured into a 20 trillion dollar monstrosity that, each year, locks in climate changes that are ever more difficult to deal with, ever more dangerous to lives and societies. An investment trend that, if it continues, puts at risk all wealth, the continuance of human civilization and, in the worst case hothouse extinction, much of life on Earth as well. It could well be termed an investment in future devastation. Because that’s what it is.

In total, more than 4.65 trillion dollars worth of the carbon bubble is held in monetary funds invested in fossil fuel industries globally. This massive capitalization provides an ongoing impetus toward climate catastrophe — feeding dangerous new infrastructures and technologies that keep the world locked into a very dangerous fossil fuel consumption regime.

It is, perhaps, the greatest malinvestment in the history of money. For, at one point or another over the years or decades, the continued spending on fossil fuel infrastructure and industry will be revealed for what it really is — an exercise in horrid, self-destructive, futility. And at that point of realization, the investment dollars will inevitably flee and the massive economic structure built around fossil fuels will come crashing down.

The obvious questions to ask in the face of an imminent carbon bubble are — will the world economy be ready for such a jarring shift and, isn’t it better to begin the shift now well before the obvious carbon bubble inevitably bursts?

The Divest/Invest Campaign

As of last year, a variety of groups spear-headed by 350.org began a massive campaign aimed directly at fossil fuel investment dollars. The campaign goal was to lobby investment firms to drop fossil fuel stocks and turn that money toward renewable energy and energy efficiency related firms. And so the divest-invest strategy was born.

The movement took inspiration from historic efforts to monetarily undermine the Apartheid government in South Africa during the 1970s and 1980s. That effort aimed at directly defunding corporations that supported the Apartheid regime and had lasting impacts throughout the struggle for equality there. The new divestment efforts were targeted directly at the investment structures supporting the fossil fuel giants and had the added impact of funneling capital toward efforts directly able to replace these harmful industries.

Flood Wall Street Activist

(Student activist toting Divest Fossil Fuels sign.)

The movement first took root in college campuses and communities around the globe. Students and young people — who stood to see much of the worst effects of climate change — became powerful advocates for shifting university and community investment dollars away from fossil fuels. As the movement grew, faith organizations also took part as a growing number of churches and religious groups around the world actively turned their investment dollars away from activities destructive to a sacred creation.

As of January of 2014, 74 major investment funds associated with these entities had taken part in the divest/invest campaign. By this week, that number had more than doubled to 180.

Included in that number was the prestigious Rockefeller Brothers Fund. An investment group that, ironically, owes its ascendance to fossil fuel dollars generated during the oil and gas boom years of the 20th Century. But the 870 million dollar fund is now moving radically away from fossil energy investment with leading fund trustee Steven Rockefeller citing concerns over a rapidly emerging carbon bubble in the global markets:

We see this as having both a moral and economic dimension, Rockefeller noted in a recent interview with the New York Times.

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund is among the first major Wall Street investment funds to take part in the growing divest/invest movement. But its prestige and reach is bound to put pressure on other charities and firms to follow suit.

Massachucetts Divestment Campaign

(Members of a Massachusetts divestment campaign aimed at removing state pension fund investments in fossil fuels. This group is just one of hundreds now operating globally. Image source: 350.org.)

Overall, funds have now pledged to divest more than 50 billion dollars in capitalized assets from fossil fuel firms and invest that money in alternative energy and fossil fuel replacement efforts. This shift in funding represents slightly more than 1 percent of the total fossil fuel global investment market capitalization. Though small when compared to the total volume of fossil fuel based assets, markets are sensitive to even minor movements in capital flows. And, since the divest/invest effort appears to be snow-balling, a stiff challenge to the monetary dominance of fossil fuels in advance of an inevitable bursting of the carbon bubble may well be in the making.

Links:

The Heirs of Oil Baron John D. Rockefeller are Dumping Fossil Fuel Investments

The 20 Trillion Dollar Carbon Bubble

Rockefellers, Heirs to An Oil Fortune, Will Divest Charity of Fossil Fuels

Fossil Fuel Divestment: A 5 Trillion Dollar Challenge

Measuring the Global Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement

Divestment — A Weapon in the Battle Against Apartheid

350.org: Divestment

Growth Shock, Going on Offense, and Setting an Example for Kindness Economics

Growth Shock Cover Art

If anything, the upcoming book, Growth Shock, is a call for action.

Confronting the combined threat posed by a rapid depletion of renewable and nonrenewable resources, a human population that is still growing beyond the 7 billion number it passed such a short while ago, a rapidly escalating and terrifying climate crisis, and a vast failure to act due to the power of wealthy, greedy, and entrenched special interests who, at every turn, fight to profit from harm, will be impossible without powerful, creative, and coordinated effort. What this means is action on the part of individuals, communities, organizations and governments. What it also requires is leadership from all individuals both great and small.

And if leadership means being among the first to act while compelling others to do the same, then I choose to dedicate the publication of Growth Shock and a majority of the proceeds to undertaking such an effort.

My actions through Growth Shock will involve:

Providing direct charitable contributions to 350.org

350_Banner_Vertical

(Go to 350.org)

In recognizing this imperative in the face of crisis, I’ve decided that the publication of Growth Shock will, in itself, be an action that pushes for effective change. I have identified one charitable organization — 350.org — which has been very effective in both its pursuit of the blocking of access to dangerous unconventional fuel sources (its stop the Keystone XL campaign) and in its direct targeting of the source of so much harm through its ongoing campaign of divestment in fossil fuels programs. 350.org’s other campaigns include an effort to stop all fossil fuel subsidies (globally) and to shift all power sources from fossil energy sources to first order renewables. 350.org is also aligned with a campaign supported by James Hansen to tax all fossil fuel use at the source and/or port of entry and then transfer the funds to the public who would then be incentivized to purchase non fossil energy sources and make more efficient use of energy. 350.org also identifies a probable ‘safe range’ of atmospheric CO2 levels at 350 parts per million and below. This range is based on the advice of climate scientist James Hansen who notes that it may be necessary to push CO2 levels below the 350 ppm limit that is the namesake of the organization.

 

My support of this noble and ongoing effort will involve the donation of fully 40% of the proceeds of Growth Shock to this charitable cause. If sales are small, and donations are low, then I can at least take a small part in this ongoing and effective campaign to remove fossil fuel exploitation and economic dependence. If sales are moderate to large, I hope to be able to provide seed money for new campaigns or expanding efforts under existing campaigns.

As part of this effort I also encourage other authors and bloggers to make funding pledges to 350.org or to similar charitable projects that help to confront the climate crisis through direct and coordinated political action and, when necessary, targeted acts of non violent civil disobedience.

Breaking the Bonds of Captive Consumerism and Providing Money for a Direct Transition Away From Fossil Fuels

Since political action may be stymied, blocked, and delayed by entrenched fossil fuel special interests, funding direct campaigns such as those conducted by 350.org may not be enough to address the larger problem inherent to an urgently needed energy transition. As individuals, we must increasingly take responsibility for our own energy use as well as the energy use of others. Such energy use and, what I perceive to be a market-enforced addiction to fossil fuels (by denial of economic alternatives), is a primary contributor to our current climate and economic problems.

My wife and I, like many who live in the western world, are among these captive consumers. Our electricity comes from a power company that generates only 20% of its energy from renewable sources. And though we live in a state — Maryland — that is progressive and actively pursues an increasing proportion of renewable energy, its current pace of transfer is not rapid enough for comfort. We also own a vehicle that, though having a fuel efficiency in excess of 35 mpg, is still entirely reliant on fossil energy. On the positive note, we are both vegan and, when possible, choose local food sources and so our food preferences have a very low climate impact while improving food availability for our fellows.

That said, there is much that could be done to further reduce our individual impacts — primarily investing in a solar energy system and a related solar garage for an electric vehicle. Having access to these resources would allow both myself and my wife to be freed from a majority of our captive fossil fuel consumerism and so this is also a goal inherent to the publication of Growth Shock.

Fully 20% of all proceeds from the book will go to a fossil energy freedom fund (FEFF) for our household. Once enough money is allayed for the provision of these alternative resources, we will undertake their installation as a completion of our own energy transition. But we won’t stop there.

Since we must also be held accountable for the energy use of our fellow human beings, once my wife and I achieve a high degree of fossil energy independence, these funds will shift to providing a similar gift, first to friends and family members and then to complete strangers. Should we achieve these aspirations, a role-out of FEFF contributions to others will be provided in more detail.

As with the 350.org donations, I will keep track of progress in a monthly report on this blog.

Unlikely Outrageous Success

Should Growth Shock be an unlikely outrageous success, the amount of funds going to charitable causes and active energy transitions will, necessarily, rise. In Growth Shock, I advocate highly progressive rates of taxation for individuals making more than 250,000 dollars per year and 1 million dollars per year respectively. In the highly unlikely event that Growth Shock should, even briefly, generate such a high level of revenue, then I will provide additional charitable contributions and charitable energy transition efforts equal to the difference between my base tax rate on the 40% of funds going to myself and my wife and the suggested rates given in Growth Shock for levels beyond 250,000 dollars. It is worth noting that, since 60% is already dedicated to transition or charity, additional amounts will push the giving level of ‘kindness economics’ far beyond that even suggested.

Since it is highly unlikely for Growth Shock to enjoy such a high level of public success, this additional pledge is probably a symbolic, but still important gesture.

An Open Call For Similar Action

I am also calling for others to act in a manner similar to that which I have described here. There are many important charity organizations like the Sierra club who are also involved in very effective campaigns to reduce reliance on and use of fossil fuels. In addition, individual pledges for private transitions away from fossil energy sources would be a very helpful addition to the broader, public campaigns. Greatly diminishing the power of the fossil fuel industry by reducing fossil fuel reliance will at least begin to point the nose of the ship of human civilization toward fairer weather, even though extraordinarily powerful storms may still await us on that, far less harmful, path of travel.

It is also worth noting that these actions only begin to address the problems outlined in Growth Shock. However, it is my view that removing fossil fuel reliance will begin to address some of the most immediate problems inherent in both resource depletion and in our current failure to provide effective mitigation to a rapidly worsening climate crisis. And even if mitigation is pursued it will continue to be imperative to provide aid for victims and the likely refugees that will inevitably result from a number of hard changes that are now unavoidable. So once the most important hurdle of mitigation is crossed, it is likely that we will then need to shift funds to helping victims, adaptation, and the invigoration of a kindness/living systems economy that works to revitalize the Earth life support structure through direct aid to and cooperation with our companion species here on Earth. An explanation of methods for weaving human systems back into living Earth systems will be provided in much greater depth and detail later. But such goals are outsets and worth mentioning.

Lastly, but not least importantly, It will probably also be necessary to support efforts and organizations that promote both kind and effective population restraint. Likely, another charity publication will be aimed at that effort.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: