Caring for the Planet is Part of the Practice of Caring for Ourselves and Others
The more we do the work of connecting with and caring for our own bodies, emotions, energies and minds the less separate we find ourselves from those around us and the environment. If our practice is taking root in us well, caring for others and our environment should arise naturally. However, in times of crisis, sometimes we need to intervene externally before all the internal circumstances have arisen. We think this is one of those times and divestment is smart and peaceful intervention.
Below is a letter from Dr Richard Yin, who is one of the meditation teachers, at the studio talking about divestment and how to get your super fund involved. The downloads below can be used as templates if you would like to get involved and should you like a word document version please email me at email@example.com and I will send them to you. Should you like to contact Dr Richard Yin, he can be reached at:
Doctors for the Environment Australia [DEA]
c/o Dr Richard Yin, 98 Onslow Road, Shenton Park 6008, 9381 4547
Letter from Richard Yin
I thought I would try and explain my current support for a campaign to create an ethical fund within GESB.
What are you invested in?
Superannuation is complex for most people and the vast majority are unaware of what they are invested in through their funds. Essentially, fund managers invest in anything that is legal and their primary role and legal requirement (fiduciary responsibility), is to maximise returns for their members. So what is legal includes tobacco, weapons production and sales, gambling, old-growth logging, intensive animal farming and fossil fuels. Hence until 2013 if you were invested in GESB you were invested in tobacco.
Why did GESB divest from tobacco in 2013? Over the last decade, investment analysts include in their assessment of a company, environmental, social and governance factors that might materially affect the worth of a company in such a way that makes it a risky investment. In the case of tobacco, their assessment would have included the fact that smoking is now not considered socially acceptable in many countries and that health officials are campaigning against it. GESB did not divest because of ethics per se, they divested because tobacco investments were considered risky!
So do you know what you are invested in? It is nearly impossible within most funds to determine what industries you are supporting. Often there is very poor public disclosure of the companies within their portfolio. GESB for example only disclose their top 10 out of 100’s of companies! What is more complicated is that each company has subsidiaries. You would think that if you were invested in Woolies, you would be invested in food. But collectively Woolworth and Coles are largest owners of poker machines in Australia with more than 15,000 machines. Woolworths alone own more machines than the top 5 casinos in Las Vegas.
Fossil Fuels and Divestment
But there is one investment category that is of particular concern. The problem of climate change is intimately linked to fossil fuels. When fuels are burnt the released carbon dioxide along with other gases contributes to a warming effect which in turn perturbs the world’s natural systems in numerous complex ways. To keep global temperatures to an agreed “safe limit” of 2 degrees of warming, 80% of all fossil fuels need to be kept in the ground. That leaves us with a carbon budget of 20%. To put that budget in perspective, if we burnt all of Australia’s known reserves we would use up 2/3’s of the carbon budget!
But companies like BP have dismissed the idea of “unburnable” carbon as overly simplistic and ExxonMobil bank on the failure of governments to effect meaningful policies. “Business as usual” has us on track for a minimum 4 degree rise by 2100 and the longer we delay action, the less we will be able to alter that trajectory. What is the difference between the globally agreed 2 degrees of warming and 4 degrees? Four degree projections include regional land temperature increases ranging from 4-16 degrees, sea level rises to 1 metre, and the displacement of up to 1 billion people because of climate change. More simply said, according to one of the world’s most influential climate scientist, Hans Schellnhuber: ‘the difference between two and four degrees is human civilisation.’ Our investments are part of that “business as usual”.
Divestment is the opposite of an investment – it simply means getting rid of stocks, bonds, or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous. The most significant divestment campaign was in relation to apartheid in South Africa, beginning in campuses and finally involving state governments, counties and cities, money was taken out of companies doing business with South Africa.
The divestment movement around fossil fuels is growing with the most recent push coming from the Guardian’s “Keep It in the Ground” campaign asking that the Wellcome Trust and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to divest from fossil fuels. They follow on from organisations like the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Stanford University, the World Council of Churches, the British Medical Association and over 800 other institutions and individuals, holding over $50 billion in assets who have divested. The movement also has support from individuals and organisations like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the President of the World Bank Jim Kim, and Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The money that we can leverage for a healthy sustainable future
Within the world’s largest 500 asset owners, many of them pension funds, insurance funds, sovereign funds, foundations and endowments; over $US40 trillion is invested. Australians alone hold over $1.8 trillion in superannuation and for most of us it is a passive resource that just sits there hopefully growing for a financially secure future.
Globally 55% of super investments are invested in fossil fuel intensive industries and less than 2% in renewables. So what would happen if we could shift this ratio even slightly, divesting from fossil fuels and favouring low carbon or renewable resources?
What could be achieved if we could direct this $40 trillion away from a fossil fuel biais to more ethical and sustainable investments? What if we could create a market for ethical investing, a consumer-led campaign to have our investments aligned to our ethics? There is now substantial historical data to suggest that ethical investments do as well as conventional portfolios, so why can’t we have both a fund that delivers us healthy returns and is aligned to healthy values?
Starting with GESB
Many super funds across Australia are being pressured to divest. Local Government Super, originally the NSW equivalent to GESB (our state government default fund for public servants), have done a fantastic job in transparency and protecting their members from climate risks and also providing an ethical framework for their investment choices. The Asset Owners Disclosure Project which rates the world’s largest 500 asset owners on how they manage climate risk placed Local Government Super number 1 worldwide.
GESB was one of 13 Australian funds, along with the Federal Government’s Future Fund, receiving the worst rating from the Asset Owners Disclosure Project. Until 2013, GESB was still invested in tobacco and they currently have 5% (or around $1 billion) of their holdings in fossil fuels. So why can’t GESB be more like Local Government Super?
What can you do?
If you are a member of GESB, I would ask you to write to the organisation via their website asking them to:
Provide greater holdings disclosure such that members are made aware of the companies they are invested in.
Offer a socially responsible investment option that explicitly excludes tobacco, gambling, weapons production and sales, old-growth logging and fossil fuel intensive industries.
Divest from thermal coal across its portfolios. Coal pollutants not only affect the climate but have direct health effects causing tens of thousands of premature deaths every year.
Enclosed is a template letter (letter to GESB). Feel free to edit or add to it as a personal letter carries more impact. Please include details of who you are and where you work. Don’t be put off by their standard reply back to you. If they write back, I can help you draft a response back to them! The message has to get up the chain of command and not just the front desk.
- Get others to write in.
- Start a petition within your workplace.
- Attached also is a petition in 2 parts (Is your Super with GESB and GESB petition) that you can use. Just let me know when you have enough signatures and I will organise to pick it up from you.
- Get others to start a petition. There are other environmental advocates that would support us; pass the petition on to them to network with others.
- Most importantly, start the conversation with others about super investments. Most people get interested when you tell them they were invested in tobacco until 2013. You can add that they are likely to be invested also in gambling and possibly weapons production and sales and old growth logging. You can then also bring up the topic of fossil fuels. It’s about aligning our investments to our values.
- Pass this email on to others that might be interested.
Is Your Super with GESB? (PDF can de downloaded at the top of this page)
Do you know what you are invested in?
Until 2013, GESB still had $52 million invested in the tobacco industry contributing world-wide to smoking-related illnesses. Today nearly $1 billion is invested in the fossil fuel industry.
We all know that smoking is a health problem; but the health effects of climate change, if left unchecked, are expected to be more widespread and catastrophic than what we have seen in relation to tobacco. Millions will be affected through malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress; rising sea levels will displace countless people from their homes; falling rainfall will lead to droughts and famine. In Australia alone, we will see more fires, storms and flooding and deaths from heat stress.
To avoid dangerous climate change, scientists tell us that we need to leave 80% of all fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Yet many energy and resource companies dismiss this fact and intend to extract and use these resources knowing full well this will take us far beyond the limits of a safe climate.
GESB’s investments in fossil fuels continue to support an industry whose business model is dependent on burning “unburnable” carbon. But major financial institutions are concerned about the economic risk of those investments in a “carbon-constrained” future. Combined with the mounting evidence that investments in socially responsible portfolios have returns comparable to more conventional funds, why would you be invested in the fossil fuel industry?
To invest in both a financially secure and healthy future for yourself and your kids, please sign the petition asking GESB to:
- Provide greater disclosure of the companies that they are invested in so that members are aware of the industries they are supporting.
- Offer a socially responsible investment option that explicitly excludes tobacco, gambling, weapons production and sales, old-growth logging and fossil fuel intensive industries.
- Divest from thermal coal across its portfolios. Coal pollutants not only affect the climate but have direct health effects causing tens of thousands of premature deaths every year.
To have the most impact, please also email GESB as a member asking them for the above requests.