Another big research paper showing divestment is a good idea

As many of you know, Aperio Group (an investment management and research firm) published a report back in 2012 titled Do the Investment Math: Building a Carbon-Free Portfolio. That report has been a foundational piece of the financial side of the divestment discourse; as it was one of the first to show, clearly and diligently, that fossil fuel divestment was a low risk move and over long periods of time could prove to enhance returns.

Well they’ve done it again. Aperio Group has just published a new report, BUILDING A CARBON-FREE EQUITY PORTFOLIO. In their new paper they look at a long timeline, from 1988 to 2013, and large sections of the market – with an emphasis on the US, Canadian, and Australian markets. Their conclusion: divestment presents low risk and slightly better returns.

The report begins, “When the idea of fossil fuel screening is raised, the first thing an endowment committee, foundation board or private investor wants to know is whether screening will impose a penalty. While there is no definitive answer, the often-presumed assumption of a return penalty is not consistently borne out by research.”

After a few clear explanations of methodology, terminology, and charted results, Aperio is able to answer the institutional investors (endowments and pensions) that are worried about losing money when they divest.

I would also like to point out the humble and honest tenor found throughout the report. For example, “The hypothetical returns for Tracking Portfolios should in no way be construed to imply that divestment leads to better performance. It shows only that over the time periods analyzed, this version of divestment just happened to play out that way.” It’s funny, you don’t get that same humility in the counter report published by the American Petroleum Institute.

Anyway, enjoy the report. I hope this helps your campaign build a more factual based conversation with the trustees.

We delivered their ask for 1000 signatures

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In October 2013, students from various institutions came together to campaign against our university’s investments. We wanted to have a democratic say in the way our university acts and functions, and we wanted to question the politics made by fossil fuel companies all over the world.

We started our campaign with a petition. We wrote opinion pieces, and were soon interviewed by two local newspapers. In one of the resulting pieces, the financial accountant of our university was interviewed. His comment was that there must be a strong and broad support for the campaign. The sustainability director was also interviewed. Here’s what he said:

“There is a difference between if ten or a thousand people thinks this is an important question.”

After this statement, that number started to appear as a goal. A thousand. When we have a thousand signatures, the university might actually consider this a wide-spread and relevant students’ opinion. So here’s what we did:

Gothenburg University has around 40 000 students, and the campuses are spread all over town. We wanted to reach out with the Fossil Free message to the whole of the university. During one week, we decided that we would try to be present on as many campuses as possible. We also created a Facebook event called “1000 signatures against the fossil fuel industry”. The event spread quickly among the university’s students, and when out on campuses, we really felt that a majority of the students we spoke to agreed with the ethical arguments of the campaign and also eager to make a change. Our campaigning week out on the campuses left us with a lot of optimism!

Now, two weeks after we launched this effort, we’ve reached 1000 signatures. Reaching our goal – a thousand signatures – feels incredible. The question is: What next? Well, when they ask, we deliver. When we ask, will they deliver?

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Today we participated as panelists in a seminar arranged by the Sustainability Unit of the University. The seminar was about sustainable investing and the Fossil Free campaign. During the seminar we presented our demands – we imagine that this seminar will give us lots of momentum. When asked, everyone in the audience agreed that the university should divest – students and employees equally.

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Spring 2014 might actually be the spring when Gothenburg University goes Fossil Free.

Written by
Moa Karlsson, Gothenburg University

A New Beginning: Getting a ‘NO’

Campaigns in the US Fossil Fuel Divestment movement have been working hard for almost two years now. Through building power on campus and negotiating with administrators, campaigns have built strong foundations – even when told ‘no’ on divestment.

Does getting a ‘no’ on your campaign mean that your campaign is over?

No. It means we are just getting to the good stuff. Public ‘no’s from major universities have done nothing but drive the conversation more and more in the media, and help activists dig in deep for the long haul fight of climate justice organizing.

The good stuff:
1. Discover new opportunities. Coming back from a ‘no’ requires you to dig deeper, strengthen existing relationships, and build a more diverse coalition. As you become more grounded in the realities and intersections of your campus and community, new opportunities to collaborate will emerge.
2. Give ourselves the permission to escalate. We can create a strategy built on bold actions that demonstrate our power and pull specific decisionmakers back to a point of decision and advance the campaign.
3. Create the public narrative the divestment movement is seeking. Good stories have compelling ‘choice points’ – and this is ours. We can choose to walk away – or we can choose to reveal the deep-seeded, and often hidden, power the fossil fuel industry has over our institutions, elected officials, and communities. Add in reports like the IPCC Impacts document – and we are proving that we have both credibility and momentum on our side.
4. Build Power through Secondary Victories. A ‘no’ forces us to be more creative with our organizing strategy. Check out Chloe’s piece on what happened at Harvard today: Harvard became the first higher education institution in the US to join the UN Principles for Responsible Investment. They also signed onto the Carbon Disclosure Project, and (yes, there’s more) created a Climate Change Solutions Fund to invest in renewable energy technologies. Harvard is giving $1 million to the fund this fall, and they’re raising an additional $19 million.

Harvard is recognizing that their investments do have an impact…but still investing millions in climate destruction as we take these productive steps forward. So here’s Divest Harvard’s response: http://divestharvard.com/divest-harvards-response-to-harvards-plan-to-confront-climate-change/. These secondary victories build momentum and power as we ramp up to bigger and bolder asks.

So what do we do? Get creative, start linking up with other campaigns, get trained, and dig deep on with on campus organizing. We need to be constantly building power and showing that power to win, whether it is targeting secondary movement targets or primary on campus targets.If you are wanting to define escalation, hear powerful stories, plan bold action, and gain the resources to take your campaign to the next level [like this action planning template] : get on the NEST calls 9 pm EDT/6 pm PDT every other Tuesday starting April 8th. [The following two calls are on April 22nd and May 6th.] Call number is 605.475.4000 and code 193981#.NEST Call Meme.jpg

Calling on Wash. U. to cut ties with Peabody Energy

Student activism looks very different in 2014 than it did just 5 years ago, when I began organizing as a student at Washington University in St. Louis. Students are less trustful of their colleges’ authority, and are more willing to take bold action to counter it. When a few friends and I dropped 5 banners in 2010 at an energy conference on campus, I felt like I was taking a major risk.

It began like this. In 2009, Greg Boyce, the CEO of Peabody Energy–one of the worst of the worst fossil fuel companies, had just been appointed to our board. In exchange, Peabody had given a large chunk of money to the school to do research on “Clean Coal”. I capitalize this phrase because it is a concept that exists only in marketing, not in reality. From that point on, students began resisting our University’s ties to the industry. This culminated in 2010 at the University’s conference on “America’s Energy Future.” It was a glorified advertisement for the coal and nuclear industries, and we students wanted to call it what it was — an exchange of our University’s academic (and perhaps ethical) reputation for funding.  We interrupted the conclusion of the conference (an open meet-and-greet) with 80 angry students and 5 banner drops. The campaign against Peabody has progressed since then through political action with a ballot measure in St. Louis, and more recently, with students leading a call to Wash U for complete divestment from the fossil fuel industry.

Like the campaign, our movement has progressed since 2009, too. 5 years later, dropping banners is child’s play. Students are walking out of classstaging sit-ins in their administrative buildings, and are locking themselves to the White House fence to call for climate sanity.  Perhaps it’s because we are now half a decade past the economic crisis of the late aughts with little hope for a full recovery or easy employment to counter mountains of student debt. Perhaps it’s that in tough economic times, many universities eschew their high-flying moral mission statements in favor of the safety of a good corporate deal (bring on the funding!). Or maybe it’s that 1,000+ brave souls rang in a new era of civil disobedience in our movement sitting in front of the White House to stop the Keystone XL pipeline in 2011.

But I think the real difference is that young people are stuck between a rock and a hard place. The consequences for speaking out or taking bold action against our institutions pale in comparison to the consequences of inaction. This week’s IPCC report confirms (again) that the impact of climate change will be much, much worse than we can fathom. It’s clearer than ever that our system is broken. And yet, institutions like my own Alma Mater, Wash U, continue to unblinkingly support the fossil fuel industry through seats on their boards, the gleeful acceptance of research dollars, and by churning out graduates eager for any jobs to pay off their debt in a failing economy.

The truth is, our young lives are dominated by fear — and that fear can paralyze us, or it can break down the barriers that keep us from authentic action. That’s why I’m so pleased to repost this article from Washington University’s student paper, written by a group of students unafraid to call out Wash U’s untenable ties to Peabody Energy. Read on for more of the details of Peabody’s behavior and what students see as the necessary response.

Wash U students — a few years graduated and a few hundred miles away, I stand with you in your fight!

Calling on Wash. U. to cut ties with Peabody Energy

Op-Ed written by Rachel Goldstein, David Binstock, Madeleine Balchan, Jamal Sadrud-Din, and reposted from Student Life, the campus newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis

In light of recent behavior by Peabody Energy, we are disappointed to see this corporation continuing to act in its own self-interest, in staunch opposition to the will of the people and at the expense of the public good. We are calling on this university to end its partnership with Peabody Energy.

On Feb. 11, as a result of a suit filed by Peabody, a judge ruling placed a temporary injunction on the city-wide “Take Back St. Louis” ballot initiative. This initiative, which was brought to the Board of Elections with 36,000 signatures, called for the city to end tax incentives to fossil-fuel extraction corporations, and invest public money and lands into renewable energy and sustainability initiatives. Peabody filed for suit against the initiative, claiming discrimination, and the judge ruled in their favor, citing equal protection to constitutional rights under Citizens United, a Supreme Court ruling of which even President Obama has been outwardly critical. This legal action has kept the initiative off of the April 8 ballot.

Elsewhere, in Saline County, Ill., Peabody’s expansion of a mining operation is threatening the local farming community of Rocky Branch. Despite strong opposition from the community, Peabody has continued its aggressive logging of the proposed site, and is attempting to take control of and divert important local roads. Community members are so threatened that they are now blockading the roads to deter Peabody. Residents are also worried about the fate of their town if coal mining operations expand, having witnessed and tolerated the blasting, hazardous coal dust, and polluted waterways of the neighboring Cottage Grove strip mine.

These are not the first instances of unethical or exploitative behavior by Peabody, but it provides an opportune moment for the Washington University community to reflect on its relationship with unscrupulous corporations. (more…)

World’s biggest investment fund doubles investments in renewables

The Norwegian government announced today a mandate for the country’s sovereign wealth fund to nearly double its investments in renewable energy amounting to $5-8.3 billion.

That’s great news! In the words of 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben: “Even those nations that made their fortune on oil are starting to see it’s not the future – the race to the exits is starting.”

Norway’s sovereign wealth fund also referred to as oil fund (most of the country’s proceeds from oil and gas went into it), is the world’s biggest investment fund valued at $840 billion USD. It owns 1.2% of the world’s listed stocks. Decisions on the fund’s investments can therefore be a real game changer with global implications.

It’s great that Norway is moving more money into renewables but there is little point if they’re spending huge sums of money digging up more fossil fuels at the same time. Now we need to see leadership from Norway by quickly divesting from fossil fuels and diverting that money towards renewables.

The Norwegian Parliament has set up a an expert group to assess whether the fund should phase out investments in coal, oil and gas, which currently represent 10% of the fund’s value.

The wealth fund’s remit is to make investments that benefit future generations. In the past it has excluded harmful industries such as nuclear weapon producers and tobacco companies from its portfolio.