Harness Your Monetary Power in Support of the Climate
Updated: Sep 20, 2021
How to help stop the money pipeline for fossil fuels
In what ways have you been inspired to take climate action lately? What pathways are you following?
I’m always on the lookout for practical and powerful ways to address the climate crisis and recently Kumi Naidoo inspired me to look more deeply at my power to take action. Naidoo, as former Executive Director of Greenpeace and Secretary General of Amnesty International and current Global Ambassador for Africans Rising for Justice, Peace, and Dignity, has thought deeply about the climate crisis. At an International Philanthropy Symposium I attended recently, he shared his take on the situation and how we can harness our individual power.
First, he made a clarion call for action since the world is running out of time, not for the planet, but for humanity. He urged us to reframe the crisis from “saving the planet” to “saving our children and grandchildren.” The planet will be fine without us. It will regenerate. But if we don’t take dramatic steps in the next nine years, our children and grandchildren may not survive. Climate impact is here now and will only get worse if we don’t act urgently. But he also said, “Ordinary people can do extraordinary things!”
Then he outlined four pathways to climate action (see table below) where we can use our power as individuals. We can harness our:
Creative participation. Playing a role in shaping culture, values, beliefs, and art, as well as holding up ancient wisdom, in ways that support climate justice.
Autonomy. Using our time and energy to volunteer, vote, demand transparency and accountability, and to shape our own destinies by joining social movements.
Consumption. Deciding to consume energy, food, and other material goods in a way that recognizes the limit of our planet. Also, discerning how to shape the spread of disinformation by engaging in conversations with those who believe what they hear, even if it isn’t true.
Wealth. Using where and how we hold our money (bank accounts, investments, and insurance) and spending it to support climate solutions instead of the fossil fuel industry.
Naidoo concluded his overview by stating that the most powerful pathway right now is doing what we can to stop the flow of money to the fossil fuel industry.
Not only do other climate activists and environmental groups, like 350.org and Green America, agree with Naidoo’s focus on using our money to fight climate, but the IEA, originally created to secure the global oil supply, also agrees. In their latest analysis, called NZE2050, they state there is “no case for further expansion or exploration of fossil fuels anywhere from now on.”
The finance sector plays a large role in keeping the fossil fuel industry going. The large banks provide loans to companies for exploration and drilling, and the insurance industry insures those projects. Without financing and insurance, these projects can’t go forward. And this is no small matter. According to the Fossil Banks, No Thanks site, “in the 5 years since the Paris Agreement, the world’s 60 biggest banks alone have already provided a staggering USD 3.8 trillion to the fossil fuel sector.”
However, the movement to persuade banks to stop funding fossil fuels is gaining some traction. In 2020, five of the six largest American banks said they would no longer fund oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We need to expand this to defunding all fossil fuel projects everywhere, which will take courage and persistent, urgent action.
Fortunately, some of our leaders understand this. On 9/15/21 three U.S. House of Representatives, supported by 12 environmental organizations, introduced the Fossil Free Finance Act. This Bill, if enacted, would require the Federal Reserve to direct all bank institutions with more than $50 billion in assets to align their financing of greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation with the country's commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement. The Act specifies 50% reduction in financed emissions by 2030 and prohibits new or expanded fossil fuel projects after 2022, among other targets. I know this legislation faces opposition, but there are things we can do to play a role in supporting the move to defund the climate crisis. It's easier than you think.
Here is a compilation of ideas from various environmental groups that help you make your money and your voice (after all, money talks!) work for the climate.
Five Specific Ways to Make Your Money Work for the Climate
1. Move your banking (accounts, loans, investments) to an institution that doesn’t finance fossil fuel companies. When you do business with a bank, they use your money to make loans to companies. Most of the world’s large banking institutions (particularly Bank of America, Citi, JP Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo) finance fossil fuel projects. But you don’t have to bank with these institutions. Instead, you can:
Open accounts (bank, credit-cards, mortgages) with a community bank or credit union. There are even new banking institutions being established, like the Climate First Bank and Beneficial State Bank, that focus on environmental sustainability. Green America provides resources, like a tool for finding a better local bank and a Guide, that help you take step-by-step action. They also help you find credit cards that support environmental work.
Join the Global Call to Banks movement to stop funding fossil fuels.
2. Change how you invest your retirement savings and other investments. When you own shares of, or bonds from, a company that is contributing to climate change, you are earning money from that company’s activities and, therefore play a part in contributing to climate change. The good news is you can take control of where your money goes and support the move to clean energy without sacrificing returns. An article in the NY Times recently confirmed that “Impact investments,…, have significantly outperformed traditional bets during the coronavirus pandemic.” To take part, you can:
Divest and Re-invest by yourself. Learn more about SRI investing and then explore what investments you have in your accounts. Learn what fossil fuel holdings you have, including in any mutual funds you hold. You can use tools like those provided by Fossilfreefunds.org and Natural Investments to identify which funds to divest from, as well as which social, environmental, responsible investment (SRI) funds might be better.
Hire an SRI financial advisor who can help you transition away from owning fossil fuel companies. Green America has a list that you can use as a starting place. If you don’t have a large enough investment to hire one, you can use a digital platform, like Earth Equity Align, to help you invest fossil free.
Ask the administrators of your retirement account at work to offer SRI options. Kelly Anne Smith, an advisor with Forbes, suggests you gather co-workers who are also interested in SRI options and, together, tell the leadership why they are important and why you want them. Be prepared with information on SRI funds that have good track records and evidence that these types of investments are more stable. Green America has a webpage that provides more resources for employers. Keep the conversation going until they provide these options to employees.
Begin a conversation within your broader community. Talk with your faith community about moving their money to support climate solutions. The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility has resources useful for these groups. Write to your mayor or county executive asking them to divest from fossil fuels. The C40 Cities coalition has information on cities pledging to divest and the Divest-Invest site has more information on the moral imperative, financial prudence, and our legal duty, as well as resources for a wide range of institutions. Share this information with your local leaders and ask them to join their peers.
Take part in a divestment campaign effort, either nationally or in your local area. 350.org has many campaigns and chapters around the world. Divest Ed supports student fossil fuel divestment campaigns. Student protests have pressured major universities to divest, like Harvard, the most recent to declare going fossil free in its investments. Over 1,300 institutions representing more than $14.5 trillion in assets have made a divestment commitment.
3. Make your voice heard at companies where you hold shares by engaging in shareholder activism. Green America, a long-time proponent and supporter of shareholder activism, reminds us on their shareholder activism page that if we own stock, we have a voice in how companies are run. They suggest we:
Vote our proxies if we own individual stocks.
Write letters and work with others to talk with company leaders to demand specific changes to the institution’s conduct and policies. If the leaders don’t respond, consider gathering support from other shareholders to submit a shareholder resolution.
Attend an annual meeting of the company and voice your concerns in person.
Hold mutual funds accountable for their voting practices on environmental and social issues.
4. Ensure your insurance company supporting sustainable insurance practices. The insurance industry is slowly waking up to the fact that they can “advance efforts to address the climate challenge,” instead of fueling it by insuring fossil fuel projects. These projects can’t proceed without insurance and more insurance companies, like Australia’s Suncorp, are deciding to no longer insure the fossil fuel companies they used to cover. To ensure your insurance company is supporting climate action, you can:
Determine if your insurance company is a member of the Sustainable Insurance Forum. SIF’s visionis to create “a global insurance system where sustainability factors are effectively integrated into the regulation and supervision of insurance companies.” You can also check out Insure Our Future’s scorecard to see how your company ranks. If they are in good standing, send them a letter thanking them and ask them to use the framework in this article by BCG to up their efforts. If they are not, write a letter asking them to join SIF and use the BCG framework. If they don’t respond, move your policy to a company that is participating in climate action.
Ask your insurance company to divest its investments from fossil fuels. According to Consumer Watchdog, AIG and Farmers both integrate environmental, social and governance (ESG) holdings in their investments.
Take part in a campaign demanding insurance companies stop insuring fossil fuel projects. The US branch of Insure our Future currently has campaigns going on AIG and other insurance companies. Stop the Money Pipeline also has a campaign asking Chubb to stop insuring fossil fuels. Green America has a campaign asking Chase Bank and Liberty Mutual Insurance to quit fossil fuels.
5. Donate to and/or join organizations working to stop the money pipeline. All the environmental action organizations mentioned above are doing major work to defund fossil fuels. You can join or donate to one or more of them to help further the work: 350.org, Fossil Banks, No Thanks, Green America, Insure Our Future, Stop the Money Pipeline.
The following organizations are also supporting the Fossil Free Finance Act. Check them out to see how you can support this legislation becoming law: 350.org, Public Citizen, Zero Hour, Stand.earth, Friends of the Earth US, Future Coalition, Action Center on Race and the Economy, Sunrise Movement, and the Sierra Club.
How will you harness your monetary power to help defund fossil fuels now?
Whatever actions you choose, I wish you all the best in your climate action.