Andreas Späth

Are you financing the fossil fuel industry?

2014-11-17 08:12

Andreas Wilson-Späth

If you’re worried about greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, there are many ways in which you can reduce your personal carbon footprint – by using public transport, growing some of your own food and minimising the amount of electricity you use at home, for instance – but did you know that your own money may well be helping to fund the global fossil fuel industry that’s at the heart of the problem?

Through a variety of financial vehicles, including endowments, retirement funds, stocks and bonds, many South African institutions, banks, organisation and companies invest some of their members’, customers’ or employees’ money in corporations that are involved in the exploration, extraction, selling and burning of natural gas, oil and coal. In most instances, the people on whose behalf the investments are being made remain completely unaware of this fact.

Do you know which companies your own money is being invested in?

If we really care about the future of the planet, knowingly helping to prop up the fossil fuel industry is ethically and morally indefensible. Scientific evidence shows that we have to leave most of the known coal, oil and gas reserves in the ground if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change consequences. The latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calls for rapid cuts in global carbon emissions, a switch to mostly renewable energy by 2050 and a phasing out of fossil fuels by the end of the century to prevent “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts”.

Now a worldwide campaign has come to South Africa to help us withdraw our unintended support for those who are at the forefront of destroying the chances of future generations to live in a healthy natural environment.

Fossil Free South Africa is expanding from its base at the University of Cape Town to include the entire country. The initiative is part of the international Fossil Free campaign, a fossil fuel divestment movement, and was formally launched in Cape Town last week, with a series of regional launches scheduled for the coming weeks. An online fundraising campaign on the local crowdfunding platform Thundafund has also been started.

The idea behind the campaign is to encourage South African institutions and organisations to withdraw their investments in the fossil fuel industry. Internationally, Fossil Free has already persuaded hundreds of universities, city councils, churches, organisations and individuals, including Stanford University, and the cities of San Francisco, Seattle and Oxford, to pull out of fossil fuel investments, and local organisers hope to replicate this success here.

The movement has received vocal support from Desmond Tutu , who reminds us of the important role which international divestment efforts played in defeating Apartheid. He notes that “it is clear that those countries and companies primarily responsible for emitting carbon and accelerating climate change are not simply going to give up; they stand to make too much money” and that “people of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change” because “it makes no sense to invest in companies that undermine our future”.

New research shows that the planet’s richest countries, far from doing whatever they can to fight climate change, are spending $88bn annually to support the search for new oil, gas and coal reserves through subsidies and tax breaks.

You don’t have to. Support Fossil Free South Africa.

- Andreas is a freelance writer with a PhD in geochemistry. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath
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