Divesting From Fossil Fuels: An Urgent Priority

 on November 20, 2023

“Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what’s politically possible, there is no hope”. —Greta Thunberg, address to the United Nations General Assembly

As I write this article, Canada is experiencing unprecedented heat and flooding. Forest fires are burning out of control in several provinces—the number beyond any that have previously happened. Homes and farms are being flooded. Peoples’ lives and property are being disrupted, animals are suffering, and more and more species are becoming extinct. There can be little doubt that our changing climate has reached crisis proportions. At the present rate such occurrences are bound to get worse. The causes are well known.

For thousands of years and until the Industrial Revolution the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth’s atmosphere has been on average 350 parts per million (ppm). Currently this concentration has risen to CO2 421 ppm, and is still rising. The Earth’s temperature has risen by 1 degree celsius. The main cause is the extraction and burning of fossil fuels: coal, gas, and oil.

About 30 to 40 years ago Exxon Mobile’s scientists told their executives that continued burning fossil fuels for energy and other products would be catastrophic for the Earth. Science examines evidence and offers results based on the evidence. There is always a margin of error. Exon officials ignored the science and went full throttle ahead, spending billions of dollars to create doubt about climate change. How could their decision be possibly justified? Why didn’t governments intervene while there was still time?

We really are in a bind: the companies whose products we use to support much of our daily life are the very ones that are causing the deterioration of the Earth’s atmosphere and the planet. How much more would we appreciate the political leadership of our own country if they would stop subsidizing these industries with tax payers’ money and begin working with them to find solutions to this dilemma!

The burning of fossil fuels is killing us. Yet this multi-billion dollar industry continues to thrive assisted by government subsidies through tax breaks, loans, and investors like churches, universities and many community organizations— even the Canada Pension Plan. These are the targets of the divestment movement.

A report from a coalition of environmental groups shows that the Royal Bank of Canada was the biggest fossil fuel financier in the world last year (2022) after providing over $42 billion US in funding. Three Canadian banks are among the Top 10 globally in terms of financing the oil sands gas sector since the Paris Agreement in 2016. According to the data, Scotiabank ranked ninth globally last year with $29.5 billion US in funding and TD was just behind it at about $29 billion US, while the Bank of Montreal ranked 15th and CIBC 16th at $19.3 billion US and $17.9 billion US respectively. Collectively, the big five Canadian banks doled out almost $140 billion US to fossil fuel developments last year.

Climate Justice Niagara has initiated meetings with the treasurer and executive officer to address the diocese’s divestment and reinvestment strategies.

The recent announcement by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby offers us some encouragement when he said recently, “The climate crisis threatens the planet on which we live and people around the world whom Jesus Christ calls us to love as our neighbours.” The Church of England is pulling its investment from fossil fuel companies because they are failing to align with the Paris Agreement.

For the past three years a small group of which I am member, naming itself Elders for Climate Sanity (E4CS), has been holding conversations with the managers and tellers at four bank locations in Hamilton and Dundas about their loans to the fossil fuel industries. To people on the street, we distribute leaflets informing them of these same facts and offering some ways in which they can act.

Here are some examples, adapted from a Elders for Climate Sanity, of what we say to people on the street:

  1.  You too, can make a difference! Switch your money to a Credit Union if one is convenient to you. Credit Unions invest locally. A Credit Union is a co-operative—you become a member and have a say. Your money is just as safe as with a bank along with the same customer services. Let your bank know you are doing this. And let your relatives and neighbours know too.
  2. If you are an investor, choose cleaner investments such as NEI Investments which is 100% Canadian owned. Invest in renewable energy projects. There is much technology and many people with the skills to build/develop alternative ways to provide energy.
  3. Make your voice heard about how you feel about the Canada Pension Plan’s investment in fossil fuel stock by writing to: President and CEO, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, One Queen Street, East, Suite 2500, Toronto, ON M5C 2W5.

This subject reminds me of St. Paul’s admonition writing to the people in Ephesus: Awake, sleeper, rise from the dead, and the Christ will shine upon you. Be most careful how you conduct yourselves: like sensible people, not like simpletons. Use the present opportunity to the full, for these are evil days. So do not be fools.

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