We all know the meaning of the word investment, but what about divestment? Divestment is the selling of an investment, such as the shedding of unethical investments. For those of us keen to live more lightly, divesting from investments that cause climate change (i.e. coal, gas or oil), is as logical as switching off lights. Hopefully those of you with shares in BHP, Santos and the like will have sold them years ago. But what about your super and banking? You may be unwittingly supporting fossil fuel industries through these accounts.
Australia’s four big banks are custodians of the majority of our money. Between 2008 and 2013, the ANZ, Commonwealth, NAB and Westpac loaned a whopping $20 billion to fossil fuel projects. These banks have ignored repeated requests to divest from fossil fuel, so now growing numbers of customers are closing accounts and moving to fossil-free alternatives like Bendigo Bank, Hume Building Society and WAW Credit Union. Since last year, over $200 million has been divested from the Big Four. While this hasn’t been enough to persuade the banks to change investment tactics, they will if more of us join the tide. History has shown that divestment is a powerful tool for creating positive change; it helped end apartheid and tackle tobacco and arms trading. When thousands of customers threatened to close their accounts if ANZ loaned to Gunns pulp mill in Tasmania, ANZ refused to finance them.
Here in Australia we’re lucky to have a well-established, compulsory superannuation scheme. Unfortunately none of Australia’s super funds are currently fossil fuel free, not even those claiming to be socially responsible. This is about to change, with ‘Future Super’, Australia’s first fossil free super fund, to be launched soon. It’ll be worth making this switch for financial as well as ethical reasons. As the world moves to decarbonise, the carbon bubble will burst and fossil fuel investments will devalue markedly. It’s been predicted that over 80% of carbon based investments will become ‘stranded assets’. Many organisations in the US have seen the writing on the wall and are divesting. Over 70 churches and more than a dozen universities including Standford with its hefty $US18 billion endowment have made this move.
We will be powerless to prevent climate change if we keep investing in companies that are causing it. So please spend some time investigating divestment. For more information visit marketforces.org.au and future-super.com.au.