Why a Rockefeller Donated $400,000 in Exxon Shares to Nonprofits Fighting Climate Denial
Divesting shares from companies or even nations involved in reprehensible practices has a long history. In the 1960s, a divestment movement emerged to protest South Africa, ultimately playing a key role in the ultimate dismantling of the country's apartheid system. Today, nations such as Iran, Israel, Northern Ireland, Myanmar and Sudan are targets of similar divestment campaigns.
In the corporate world, no other sector has been targeted so heavily by an international divestment campaign as the fossil fuel industry. Aided by the well-established climate movement and a deeply ingrained public awareness of how burning oil and gas contributes greatly to climate change, the fossil fuel divestment movement has been steadily growing, with universities, foundations, pension funds and individual investors dumping their shares in Big Oil. At COP21, the climate summit held in Paris in December, 350.org and Divest-Invest, two organizations coordinating the movement, reported that 500 institutions representing more than $3.4 trillion in assets have made some form of divestment commitment.
The movement isn’t lacking for star power, with Hollywood stars like Tilda Swinton and Leonardo DiCaprio joining political leaders like Desmond Tutu and President Barack Obama offering their support. Now, the movement has a compelling new advocate: Neva Rockefeller Goodwin, who serves as the co-director of the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University. But it’s not Goodwin's academic background that makes her unique; it’s the fact that she’s the great-granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller Sr., founder of the American oil giant Standard Oil Company, out of which ExxonMobil, the world's largest publicly traded international oil and gas company, was born.
Goodwin recently decided to gift her $400,000 shares of ExxonMobil to nonprofits so the proceeds can be used to fight climate change and climate denial. Her decision was prompted by the findings of two independent investigations by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times into Exxon’s climate change coverup. In 1977 ExxonMobil’s own climate science team reached the conclusion that burning of fossil fuels would not only have a “catastrophic” impact on our planet but also pose a financial risk to Exxon’s financial stability in the future.
In November, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched an investigation into ExxonMobil to determine if ExxonMobil lied to the public or investors about the risks of climate change to its future business. In January, California’s Attorney General, Kamala D. Harris, threw her state into the ring with a similar investigation, suggesting that other states may follow Schneiderman’s lead, possibly expanding the probe into other fossil fuel companies. The growing inquiry has been already been compared to the lawsuits that have bedeviled tobacco companies, which concealed from the public research conducted in the 1950s and '60s into the health effects of smoking cigarettes.
I had a chance to ask Goodwin some questions about her decision and her thoughts about the growing divestment movement and the future of fossil fuel.
Reynard Loki: You decided to divest your ExxonMobil shares after reading about two independent investigations by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times. Were those stories the first you had heard about ExxonMobil’s potential fraud? What was your initial reaction?
Neva Rockefeller Goodwin: Yes, those were the first data I had encountered about the company’s scientific investigations several decades ago. I was pretty stunned. I had had interactions with the company over more than a decade, including a lunch with Lee Raymond, Rex Tillerson and my father in 2006. I guess I’m naïve. I believed, based on what I understood of the science, that the company’s stance on climate change was simply incorrect; I had not assumed that they were lying.
Reynard Loki: It’s interesting that these journalistic investigations inspired you to take this action. Do you think it's the role of media to get people to make these kinds of decisions, whether divesting from fossil fuel, calling on their representatives to support renewable energy solutions or simply reducing their own carbon footprints?
Neva Rockefeller Goodwin: The reporting function of the media is essential in assisting people to understand the facts, on a wide variety of topics as well as climate change. Then, beyond reporting the facts, there is a role for editorial writing, selection of op-eds and editorials. This is where it seems appropriate to encourage people to divest or to change their lifestyles or to get involved in politics. Of course, the selection of news articles also depends on the knowledge and beliefs of the editorial staff—media can choose whether to run a story about a person who has had a good experience installing solar panels or one who has had a bad experience. The editorial role assumes that the people involved in a particular news outlet collectively have better access to facts on a wide variety of topics than do most of the users of the media—and, that, with this better access, they can make good recommendations and selections. But this may also be naïve. When I look at the anti-scientific stance of some media, not only on their editorial pages but throughout their reporting, then I worry about their dedication to truth or where they get their facts from.
Reynard Loki: Do you believe that the media has done a good job covering the climate change issue?
Neva Rockefeller Goodwin: Some have done a very good job. A weakness of a lot of reporting, however, has been on the matter of balance. It has become widely accepted that the media need to represent all sides of any issue that is at all contentious. Climate change is an issue on which there is one side composed of scientists who believe that it is a very serious danger, warranting strong response. The other side—sometimes called “climate deniers”—includes less than 1 percent of the world’s climate scientists. Too often media have given in to pressure to give something like equal time to these very unequal sides.
Reynard Loki: You wrote an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times about your decision to divest, saying that you “lost faith in ExxonMobil's future value.” How much of it was about the risk to future value vs. the risk to the environment that the company’s main product causes?
Neva Rockefeller Goodwin: The two issues are very closely connected. A company that has been causing disasters on local and global scales is sooner or later going to run into various kinds of trouble—lawsuits, regulations, other expressions of public anger.
Reynard Loki: The New York and California AG investigations into ExxonMobil may result in lawsuits, just as the tobacco companies faced. But though U.S. tobacco production has decreased significantly since the 1980s (from nearly 180,000 tobacco-growing farms to about 10,000 in 2012), the United States continues to be a leading producer of tobacco leaves. And the health-related impact is still severe: Smoking-related illness in the United States costs more than $300 billion each year.
What’s to say that litigating the oil and gas industry will have a more pronounced effect on climate and public health than litigating tobacco? Maybe Big Oil will just pay huge fines and then back to drilling as usual.
Neva Rockefeller Goodwin: I recently read that the leading causes of death in the whole world are tobacco-related, with pollution-related causes coming in second, with the largest number of pollution-related deaths occurring in China and India. As the tobacco business shrank in the U.S., much of it went overseas and those businesses have fought vigorously, often successfully, against efforts to reduce tobacco use around the world. We can certainly expect that the fossil fuel industries will fight every attempt to reduce their harmful activities and they will win some of the battles.
In the large picture, however, tobacco and fossil fuel emissions are quite different. Tobacco kills people one by one. Climate change will increasingly cause events like hurricanes that will destroy large swathes of property, kill numbers of people, make many homeless. While it can be argued that smoking tobacco is a matter of individual choice, the production and use of fossil fuels is more obviously a social issue. In the long run, producers of fossil fuels will have to lose. The only question is how much the people and ecologies of the world will lose before our economies cease to make the situation worse.
Reynard Loki: ExxonMobil’s alleged deceit—as well as the tobacco companies’ similar deceit that led to a wave of litigation that began in the 1970s and also the anti-GMO labeling attempts by Big Ag firms—underscore a lack of corporate ethics. Are business ethics and personal ethics different? Can they be in conflict? What are the greatest threats and opportunities for companies embracing responsible business practices?
Neva Rockefeller Goodwin: From casual observation it appears that there are people with a reasonable sense of morality who steer their companies to do pretty immoral things. Evidently such people erect a firewall between their personal and business ethics. There is a slowly growing movement to point out the ways in which what is commonly accepted as decent morality is also good for business. For example, the “Porter hypothesis” suggests that good environmental ethics tend to be efficient and cost-saving for business. There is considerable evidence that this is correct. Other kinds of ethics may be less clearly related, positively or negatively, to profits. An important role for government is to create an environment in which socially good behavior does not hurt the company and in which the kind of behavior that creates what economists call “negative externalities” is not profitable.
Reynard Loki: In your Los Angeles Times op-ed, you write, “In shareholder resolutions and meetings with company representatives over the last 15 years, I and other members of my family have argued that it is shortsighted for Exxon to insist on remaining 'an oil and gas company'—rather than evolving into an energy company prepared to transition to a post-carbon economy.”
In May of last year, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson mocked renewable energy in a speech to shareholders. In those meetings, how were your proposals for changes received by the executives?
Neva Rockefeller Goodwin: They were civil, but barely.
Reynard Loki: How would you explain such short-sightedness? Has the quarterly-earnings mentality robbed publicly traded corporations from adopting a longer view?
Neva Rockefeller Goodwin: The quarterly-earnings mentality has certainly played a large role in pushing corporations in general to a short-term mentality. This should be less true for companies like the oil majors, who have a long planning time from decisions to pursue new ventures and the time that those ventures may produce revenues. Given that, I am mystified by the failure of such companies to see where the future is heading—especially when their own science gave them a pretty clear picture a number of decades ago.
Reynard Loki: In December, 350.org and Divest-Invest, two organizations coordinating the growing divestment movement, reported that 500 institutions representing over $3.4 trillion in assets have made some form of divestment commitment. Do you believe that the divestment movement will ultimately succeed in convincing Big Oil to switch to renewables?
Neva Rockefeller Goodwin: The divestment movement is an important piece of the necessary process, but alone it would not accomplish what is needed. Right now those who want to sell shares in harmful companies can almost always find willing buyers; the share price may be lowered in some cases, but generally not much. But the divestment movement is a way for people in our market democracy to make their voices heard. This is one of a number of ways to express disaffection with companies that do more harm than good. When these voices are raised, that gives strength to other forces, such as government regulation, litigation, etc. that can both diminish the profitability of producing fossil fuels and make it harder for companies to continue profiting from destruction.
Reynard Loki: In your op-ed piece, you write, “A prime reason is that Exxon's valuation is based largely on the immense untapped reserves of oil and gas it owns. And yet if future generations are to inherit a livable world, most of those reserves must stay in the ground.”
Are you hopeful that future generations will inherit a livable world?
Neva Rockefeller Goodwin: I am not extremely optimistic about this. On bad days my probability estimate for future generations inheriting a livable world is in the single digits. But I keep my eye on whatever percent chance I think there is for future generations and keep thinking about how to bring about that more or less improbable good future.
Reynard Loki: What would you recommend to investors who care about the climate? Surely it can't be as simple as divesting from fossil fuel stocks.
Neva Rockefeller Goodwin: No indeed. As investors, people should be actively looking for how to use their money to find solutions. For example, there are ways of capturing and storing CO2 in soils, oceans and mangrove forests as well as the better-known tropical forests. There are materials and technologies that can reduce the energy used, whether in production, transportation or other ways, to fill human needs. Investors should seek to direct their resources to such innovations. Recognizing that finding such opportunities is not easy, it is best to move gradually while learning the terrain. And then, too, investors are people. As people we all need to think about how our behavior affects the earth.
Reynard Loki: If you could advise the next president on America’s climate plan, what are the top recommendations you would make?
Neva Rockefeller Goodwin: This country's inability, so far, to respond appropriately to the climate challenge is rooted in two social issues: economic inequality and economic insecurity. In our increasingly unequal society the biggest corporations are able to distort the information that reaches the public and to hide the realities we are facing. In a society in which most individuals and families are increasingly insecure, fear of losing the income required to stay at an acceptable level makes people easy prey for rage- and hate-mongers like Donald Trump. Given that technology is making it easier to fill all real needs with ever less human labor, a guaranteed basic income for all is increasingly being discussed as a way of addressing both inequality and insecurity. This would be my first recommendation.
A related issue is the hold of corporate money on politics. Subsidies on fossil fuels is one example of that hold; shockingly, the fossil fuel industry is still more heavily subsidized by our government (and by many other governments) than is the development or production of sustainable fuels. Another example is the subsidies given to biofuels. If our government were following scientific evidence rather than corporate money it would recognize the substantial climate effects of ethanol and several (though not all) other biofuels. My second recommendation, then, would relate to getting money out of politics—for example, requiring all lawmakers to make known all their sources of income and to recuse themselves from voting on legislation relevant to their donors. There are many other areas of our society where “conflict of interest” is taken seriously; why not in government?
There are other, more obvious recommendations, such as putting a price on carbon; that is a relatively easy step now, while fossil fuels are relatively cheap. But this, without deeper change in our corporate and consumerist culture, will not be enough. We cannot solve our environmental problems without addressing basic economic and political ones.
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There's some good news amidst the grim global pandemic: At long last, the world's largest dam removal is finally happening.
A young activist for a free-flowing Salween River. A team of campaigners and lawyers from EarthRights International joined Indigenous Karen communities on the Salween in 2018 to celebrate the International Day of Actions for Rivers on March 14. This year, EarthRights joined communities living in the Eu-Wae-Tta internally displaced persons camp for a celebration in solidarity with those impacted by dam projects on the Salween River. EarthRights International<p>The dam removal project is a sign of the decline of the hydropower industry, whose fortunes have fallen as the <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-46098118" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">troubling</a> cost-benefit ratio of dams has become clear over the years. The rise of more cost-effective and sustainable energy sources (including wind and solar) has hastened this shift. This is exactly the type of progress envisioned by the <a href="https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/read/17023836/dams-and-development-a-new-framework-for-decision" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">World Commission on Dams</a> (WCD), a global multi-stakeholder body that was established by the World Bank and International Union for Conservation of Nature in 1998 to investigate the effectiveness and performance of large dams around the world. The WCD released a damning landmark <a href="https://www.un.org/press/en/2000/20001117.dam.pressconferencepm.doc.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> in November 2000 on the enormous financial, environmental and human costs and the dismal performance of large dams. The commission spent <a href="https://www.un.org/press/en/2000/20001117.dam.pressconferencepm.doc.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">two years</a> analyzing the outcome of the trillions of dollars invested in dams, reviewing dozens of case studies and testimonies from over a thousand communities and individuals, before producing the report.</p><p>But despite this progress, we cannot take hydropower's decline as inevitable. As governments around the world plan for a post-pandemic recovery, hydropower companies sense an opportunity. The industry is eager to recast itself as climate-friendly (<a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/how-green-is-hydropower-1919539525.html" target="_self">it's not</a>) and <a href="https://www.hydropower.org/covid-19" target="_blank">secure</a> precious stimulus funds to revive its dying industry — at the expense of people, the environment and a truly just, green recovery.</p>
Hydropower’s Troubling Record<p>The world's largest hydropower dam removal project on the Klamath River is a significant win for tribal communities. But while the Yurok and Karuk tribes <a href="https://www.karuk.us/images/docs/press/bring_salmon_home.php" target="_blank">suffered</a> terribly from the decline of the Klamath's fisheries, they were by no means alone in that experience. The environmental catastrophe that occurred along the Klamath River has been replicated all over the world since the global boom in hydropower construction <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/hydropower" target="_blank">began</a> early in the 20th century.</p><p>The rush to dam rivers has had huge consequences. After decades of rampant construction, only <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/05/worlds-free-flowing-rivers-mapped-hydropower/" target="_blank">37 percent of the world's rivers remain free-flowing</a>, according to <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1111-9" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">one study</a>. River fragmentation has <a href="https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/70/4/330/5732594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">decimated freshwater habitats and fish stocks</a>, threatening food security for millions of the world's most vulnerable people, and hastening the <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffopperman/2020/10/13/freshwater-wildlife-continues-to-decline-but-new-energy-trendlines-suggest-we-can-bend-that-curve/?sh=f9d175a61ee4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">decline of other myriad freshwater species</a>, including mammals, birds and reptiles.</p><p>The communities that experienced the most harm from dams — whether in Asia, Latin America or Africa — often lacked political power and access. But that didn't stop grassroots movements from organizing and growing to fight for their rights and livelihoods. The people affected by dams began raising their voices, sharing their experiences and forging alliances across borders. By the 1990s, the public <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y55lnlst" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">outcry</a> against large dams had grown so loud that it finally led to the establishment of the WCD.</p><p>What the WCD found was stunning. While large dam projects had brought some economic benefits, they had also <a href="https://www.irn.org/wcd/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">forcibly displaced an estimated 40 to 80 million people in the 20th century alone</a>. To put that number into perspective, it is more than the current population of present-day <a href="https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?locations=FR" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">France</a> or the <a href="https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?locations=GB" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Kingdom</a>. These people lost their lands and homes to dams, and often with no compensation.</p><p>Subsequent research has compounded that finding. A paper published in <a href="https://tinyurl.com/c7uznz" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Water Alternatives</a> revealed that globally, more than <a href="https://tinyurl.com/yxw8x7ab" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">470 million people living downstream from large dams</a> have faced significant impacts to their lives and livelihoods — much of it due to disruptions in water supply, which in turn harm the complex web of life that depends on healthy, free-flowing rivers. The WCD's findings, released in 2000, <a href="https://www.irn.org/wcd/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">identified</a> the importance of restoring rivers, compensating communities for their losses, and finding better energy alternatives to save rivers and ecosystems.</p>
Facing a New Crisis<p>Twenty years after the WCD uncovered a crisis along the world's rivers and recommended a new development path — one that advances community-driven development and protects freshwater resources — we find ourselves in the midst of another crisis. The global pandemic has hit us hard, with surging loss of life, unemployment and instability.</p><p>But as governments work to rebuild economies and create job opportunities in the coming years, we have a choice: Double down on the failed, outdated technologies that have harmed so many, or change course and use this transformative moment to rebuild our natural systems and uplift communities.</p><p>There are many reasons to fight for a green recovery. The climate is changing even <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-07586-5" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">faster</a> than expected, and some dams — especially those with reservoirs in hot climates — <a href="https://tinyurl.com/w6w29t8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">have been found to emit more greenhouse gases than a fossil fuel power plant</a>. Other estimates have put global reservoirs' human-made greenhouse gas emissions each year on par with <a href="https://www.climatecentral.org/news/greenhouse-gases-reservoirs-fuel-climate-change-20745" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Canada's</a> total emissions.</p><p>Meanwhile, we now understand that healthy rivers and freshwater ecosystems play a <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/b55b1fe4-7d09-47af-96c4-6cbb5f106d4f/files/wetlands-role-carbon-cycle.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">critical role in regulating and storing carbon</a>. And at a time when <a href="https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2019/05/nature-decline-unprecedented-report/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">biodiversity loss is soaring</a>, anything we can do to <a href="https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/70/4/330/5732594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">restore habitat is key</a>. But with <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/271996520_A_Global_Boom_in_Hydropower_dam_Construction" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">more than 3,700 major dams proposed or under construction</a> in the world (primarily in the Global South, with over <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2020/08/more-than-500-dams-planned-inside-protected-areas-study/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">500 of these in protected areas</a>), according to a 2014 report — and the hydropower industry <a href="https://www.hydropower.org/covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">jockeying</a> for scarce stimulus dollars — we must act urgently.</p>
Signs of Hope<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTcxMzUyMS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxOTcyNTc3OX0.EbqBVPs2kjhrY5AqnZXOb_GX-s6pw4qyJmmeISzKA6U/img.png?width=980" id="a81d0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="87bc79d69f72e9334a78da8e0355e6ae" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1620" data-height="1068" />
Fish catch at the Siphandone on the Mekong River, prior to the completion of the Don Sahong Dam. Pai Deetes / International Rivers<p>So what would a strong, resilient and equitable recovery look like in the 21st century? Let's consider one example in Southeast Asia.</p><p>Running through six countries, the Mekong River is the world's 12th-longest river, which is home to one of the world's most biodiverse regions, and includes the world's <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/places/greater-mekong#" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">largest</a> inland fishery. Around <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y6jrarjo" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">80 percent of the nearly 65 million people</a> who live in the Lower Mekong River Basin depend on the river for their livelihoods, according to the Mekong River Commission. In 1994, Thailand built the Pak Mun Dam on a Mekong tributary. <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y5ekfp4h" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Six years later</a>, the <a href="https://tinyurl.com/yxcvs6up" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">WCD studied the dam's performance</a> and submitted its conclusions and recommendations as part of its final report in 2000. According to the WCD report, the Pak Mun Dam did not deliver the peaking energy service it was designed for, and it <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y38p3jaw" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">physically blocked a critical migration route</a> for a range of fish species that migrated annually to breeding grounds upstream in the Mun River Basin. Cut off from their customary habitat, fish stocks plummeted, and so did the livelihoods of the local people.</p><p>Neighboring Laos, instead of learning from this debacle, followed in Thailand's footsteps, <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y4eaxcq2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">constructing two dams on the river's mainstem</a>, Xayaburi Dam, commissioned in 2019, and Don Sahong Dam, commissioned in 2020. But then a sign of hope appeared. In early 2020, just as the pandemic began to spread across the world, the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/20/cambodia-scraps-plans-for-mekong-hydropower-dams" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cambodian government reconsidered its plans to build more dams on the Mekong</a>. The science was indisputable: A government-commissioned report showed that further dams would <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/16/leaked-report-warns-cambodias-biggest-dam-could-literally-kill-mekong-river" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduce the river's wild fisheries, threaten critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins</a> and <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/2013WR014651" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">block nutrient-rich sediment from the delta's fertile agricultural lands</a>.</p><p><a href="https://data.opendevelopmentmekong.net/dataset/4f1bb5fd-a564-4d37-878b-c288af460143/resource/5f6fe360-7a68-480d-9ba4-12d7b8b805c9/download/volume-3_solar-alternative-to-sambor-dam.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Studies</a> show that Cambodia didn't need to seek billions of dollars in loans to build more hydropower; instead, it could pursue more cost-effective solar and wind projects that would deliver needed electricity at a fraction of the cost — and <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/press-releases/wwf-statement-on-cambodian-government-s-decision-to-suspend-hydropower-dam-development-on-the-mekong-river" target="_blank">without the ecological disasters to fisheries and the verdant Mekong delta</a>. And, in a stunning reversal, Cambodia listened to the science — and to the people — and <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/20/cambodia-scraps-plans-for-mekong-hydropower-dams" target="_blank">announced</a> a 10-year moratorium on mainstream dams. Cambodia is now <a href="https://www.voanews.com/east-asia-pacific/cambodia-halts-hydropower-construction-mekong-river-until-2030" target="_blank">reconsidering</a> its energy mix, recognizing that mainstream hydropower dams are too costly and undermine the economic and cultural values of its flagship river.</p>
Toward a Green Recovery<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTcxMzUwOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTMwMjk0M30.0LZCOEVzgtgjm2_7CwcbFfuZlrtUr80DiRYxqKGaKIg/img.jpg?width=980" id="87fe9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e6b9bfeb013516f6ad5033bb9e03c5ec" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="2100" data-height="3086" />
Klamath River Rapids. Tupper Ansel Blake / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service<p>Increasingly, governments, civil servants and the public at large are rethinking how we produce energy and are seeking to preserve and restore precious freshwater resources. Dam removals are increasing exponentially across <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/DamsRemoved_1999-2019.pdf" target="_blank">North America</a> and <a href="https://damremoval.eu/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/DRE-policy-Report-2018-digitaal-010319.pdf" target="_blank">Europe</a>, and movements advancing <a href="https://www.rightsofrivers.org/" target="_blank">permanent river protection are growing across Latin America, Asia and Africa</a>.</p><p>We must use the COVID-19 crisis to accelerate the trend. Rather than relying on old destructive technologies and industry claims of newfound "<a href="https://www.hydrosustainability.org/news/2020/11/12/consultation-on-a-groundbreaking-global-sustainability-standard-for-hydropower" target="_blank">sustainable hydropower</a>," the world requires a new paradigm for an economic recovery that is rooted both in climate and economic justice as well as river stewardship. Since December 2020, hundreds of groups and individuals from more than 80 countries have joined the <a href="https://www.rivers4recovery.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Rivers4Recovery</a> call for a better way forward for rivers and natural places. This paradigm will protect our rivers as critical lifelines — supporting fisheries, biodiversity, water supply, food production, Indigenous peoples and diverse populations around the world — rather than damming and polluting them.</p><p>The promise of the Klamath dam removals is one of restoration — a move that finally recognizes the immense value of free-flowing rivers and the key role they play in <a href="https://f.hubspotusercontent20.net/hubfs/4783129/LPR/PDFs/Living_Planet_Report_Freshwater_Deepdive.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">nourishing both the world's biodiversity and hundreds of millions of people</a>. Healthy rivers — connected to watershed forests, floodplains, wetlands and deltas — are key partners in building resilience in the face of an accelerating climate crisis. But if we allow the hydropower industry to succeed in its <a href="https://www.world-energy.org/article/12361.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cynical grab for stimulus funds</a>, we'll only perpetuate the 20th century's legacy of suffering and environmental degradation.</p><p>We must put our money where our values are. Twenty years ago, the WCD pointed the way forward to a model of development that takes humans, wildlife and the environment into account, and in 2020, we saw that vision flower along the Klamath River. It's time to bring that promise of healing and restoration to more of the world's rivers.</p><p><em>Deborah Moore is a former commissioner of the <a href="https://www.water-alternatives.org/index.php/alldoc/articles/vol3/v3issue2/79-a3-2-2/file" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">World Commission on Dams</a>. Michael Simon was a member of the <a href="https://www.hydrosustainability.org/assessment-protocol" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Forum</a>. Darryl Knudsen is the executive director of <a href="https://www.internationalrivers.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">International Rivers</a>.</em></p><p><em>This article first appeared on <a href="https://truthout.org/articles/damming-rivers-is-terrible-for-human-rights-ecosystems-and-food-security/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Truthout</a> and was produced in partnership with <a href="https://independentmediainstitute.org/earth-food-life/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Earth | Food | Life</a>, a project of the Independent Media Institute.</em></p>
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