The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
By Ellen Friedman, Compton Foundation
Climate change received top billing at an unlikely venue last month, the 2016 Academy Awards. Accepting his first Oscar after six nominations, Leonardo DiCaprio used the moment to deliver a wake-up call for climate action:
Making 'The Revenant' was about man's relationship to the natural world, a world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history. Our production needed to move to the southern tip of this planet just to find snow. Climate change is real, it's happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species.
Last year, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation joined the Compton Foundation, along with 500 other institutions and 50,000 individuals, in a global pledge to move their money out of planet-heating fossil fuels. This global “divestment" movement draws on a core innovation of the anti-Apartheid era, when American universities and nonprofit organizations pulled their investments out of companies doing business with the Apartheid government that treated blacks as inferior to whites. That campaign was later credited by Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu as pivotal to the downfall of Apartheid.
The fossil fuel divestment and clean energy reinvestment movement follows this proud tradition. In less than five years, it has united a diverse and global coalition, moving capital away from the industries that produce climate change and into industries that promote climate resilience and clean energy. Today, faith groups, universities, pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, global insurance companies, people, cities, and health organizations—controlling over $3.5 trillion in assets—are divesting from the past and investing in the future.
Our common cause is rooted in the belief that our investments must not undercut a future for our children: It is immoral to invest in companies whose current business model is predicated on destroying our only home. It is also bad business. With coal stocks in terminal decline and oil teetering between $30 and $50 a barrel, the forecast for fossil fuel investments is bleak and volatile. Committing to do what is right has never been so easy.
The Divest-Invest movement is the most potent climate campaign of all time. Its power derives from its democracy and its hope: Everyone has something to divest, or is part of an institution he or she can pressure to divest. Students succeeded in moving both Stanford and the University of California system to divest from coal; workers looking after the value of their pensions were integral to the success of California legislation SB 185 requiring the California public pension funds to divest.
Reinvestment in a clean, just and renewable energy future is just as important—it is the solution to the problem. That is why members of Divest-Invest commit to investing part of our portfolios into the climate solutions needed to put humanity back on course. With this investment comes enormous opportunity, to not only align investments with values but to profit from the growth industries of the future. Our members report their financial performance is only improving, as renewable energies are increasingly cheap and fossil fuels are increasingly costly.
The Paris agreement ratified in December 2015 gave the world a new mandate to pursue climate mitigation with all deliberate speed. Enshrining a target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the agreement recognizes that the world must be almost entirely carbon-free by 2050. Governments cannot go it alone. Businesses, civil society and individuals must rally together to accelerate the transition already underway.
“Let us not take this planet for granted," DiCaprio said in closing his Oscar speech. Each of us can heed his call by joining the global movement to divest and invest.
Ellen Friedman is the executive director of the Compton Foundation, a San Francisco-based philanthropy focused on the intersection of human rights and the arts. Compton was a founding member of Divest-Invest Philanthropy, the foundation arm of a global movement spanning universities, pension funds, faith groups, health organizations, sovereign wealth funds, insurers, individuals and more.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
Leaked documents show that Jair Bolsonaro's government intends to use the Brazilian president's hate speech to isolate minorities living in the Amazon region. The PowerPoint slides, which democraciaAbierta has seen, also reveal plans to implement predatory projects that could have a devastating environmental impact.
Last week we received positive news on the border wall's imminent construction in an Arizona wildlife refuge. The Trump administration delayed construction of the wall through about 60 miles of federal wildlife preserves.