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Exclusive Interview, Joel Benjamin, Community Reinvest

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Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin has ten years professional experience in town and transport planning, public policy and environmental consultancy roles. This includes two years research and advocacy experience with Move Your Money UK – studying public sector, local authority and alternative finance.

Joel has experience in public policy, local planning and consultancy, coupled with recent financial campaigning, networking and research skills obtained through developing Local Authority guide on Banking for Social Good. The guide will streamline expansion of local authority finance work into divestment and re-investment options for municipalities to create alternatives that deliver economic and social value benefits for residents whilst expediting a transition to a jobs rich, low-carbon, local economy

What is Community Reinvest?

We are a not-for-profit Community Interest Company set up to link divestment and reinvestment and believe through this action it is possible to create flourishing low carbon, local economies. We exist to help public institutions demonstrate civic leadership by divesting from fossil fuels and reinvesting funds in the local economy, in a manner that has social, economic and environmental benefits.

What was the driver behind this?

In late 2014 when Co-Founder Jo Ram and I set up Community Reinvest – there was a lot of energy around the US & UK college fossil fuel divestment movement, but not a lot of joined-up thinking to link divestment with pathways for socially and environmentally just investment in the new economy for institutions and pension funds.

Its incredible to think that despite pension funds being members money, individual investors have next to no say in how their pension is actually invested.

Community Reinvest identified local authorities as a key player in the drive to the low carbon economy, because they are democratically accountable bodies, are in control of our local economies and account for £1 in every £4 of taxpayer funds spent.

We wanted to ensure the link between divestment from fossil fuels and investment in the renewables based low-carbon economy was made explicit and that such investments were both aligned with members and communities needs, and were environmentally sustainable.

Who does it primarily serve?

We’re here to help the divestment movement, local authority pension funds and community/ renewable energy groups work together and to signpost alternative, renewable investments and low carbon funds.

What difference does Community Reinvest want to make?

We need to radically decarbonise our economy, but we also need to democratise our entire energy system.

By divesting money from carbon intensive, centrally controlled corporate oil monopolies, and supporting a shift to democratised, locally owned and controlled renewable energy, we hope to distribute and anchor wealth within communities, creating jobs and local manufacturing opportunities while de-risking workers pension funds and improving the environment.

What are the barriers to making that difference?

The barriers are enormous. The first is transparency. Working with Friends of the Earth, Platform and 350, it took us 100 FOI requests and a year of data crunching just to work out how much local authority pension fund money was invested in fossil fuels – £14 billion. Around £3000 in coal, oil & gas for each LGPS fund member or £281 for each UK citizen.

Fossil fuels have been viewed as a safe bet for investors for more than a century, but recently a growing chorus of voices from Mark Carney to Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben are urging pension funds to review carbon investment risk and to pursue divestment. Culturally however, the pace of divestment and actual change within institutions has been slow.

UK Government policy has attacked renewables, singling out local authority pension funds to threaten  them on engaging in boycotts, divestment and sanctions, whilst trying to strong arm the funds into white elephant PFI infrastructure projects like HS2 which Government refuses to fund itself.

Currently the 89 LGPS funds in England and Wales are being forced by Government to pool themselves into 6-8 large funds to reduce the impact of rip-off City fund managers fees on workers nest-eggs. This will make pensions further removed from fund members, and harder to engage with.

Who’s helping you overcome those barriers?

On the divestment campaigning side, 350, Platform and Friends of the Earth are doing an admirable job of building and supporting local groups to push the divestment message and to work with the trade union movement on the transition to low carbon energy.

Organisations like Share Action and Carbon Tracker are engaging with the fund manager sector to ram home the message of fiduciary duty and the need to act in members interests and manage carbon investment risk. The trade union movement is making the case for a low-carbon jobs transition and pressuring Government to ensure workers pensions are invested in the long-term interests of members and do not become a political football for the Westminster elite.

Are investors and companies doing enough to divest and reinvest their assets?

In the language of the City, public pension funds are labelled “the dumb money” while private equity, hedge funds and banks are labelled “the smart money.”

With carbon risk, it’s the complete reversal. Government’s, citizens and insurance firms like Aviva are in the lead – demanding the City and financial markets take action to decarbonise, while major financial institutions and the oil majors drag heels, because their cash flow and debt generation business is inherently linked to fossil fuel extraction and the continuation of the petro-dollar.

With fossil fuels, pension fund managers and advisors are blocking oil soaked investments from heading where they needs to head – the exit sign and quickly.

How can people – individuals and organisations – find out more about Community Reinvest?

People can visit our website at www.communityreinvest.org.uk follow us on twitter @Comm_Reinvest and take a read of our recent report “Reinvesting Pensions – From Fossil Fuel Divestment to Reinvestment in the New Economy”

Editors Choice

2017 Was the Most Expensive Year Ever for U.S. Natural Disaster Damage

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Natural Disaster Damage
Shutterstock / By Droidworker | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/droidworker

Devastating natural disasters dominated last year’s headlines and made many wonder how the affected areas could ever recover. According to data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the storms and other weather events that caused the destruction were extremely costly.

Specifically, the natural disasters recorded last year caused so much damage that the associated losses made 2017 the most expensive year on record in the 38-year history of keeping such data. The following are several reasons that 2017 made headlines for this notorious distinction.

Over a Dozen Events With Losses Totalling More Than $1 Billion Each

The NOAA reports that in total, the recorded losses equaled $306 billion, which is $90 billion more than the amount associated with 2005, the previous record holder. One of the primary reasons the dollar amount climbed so high last year is that 16 individual events cost more than $1 billion each.

Global Warming Contributed to Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey, one of two Category-4 hurricanes that made landfall in 2017, was a particularly expensive natural disaster. Nearly 800,000 people needed assistance after the storm. Hurricane Harvey alone cost $125 billion, with some estimates even higher than that. So far, the only hurricane more expensive than Harvey was Katrina.

Before Hurricane Harvey hit, scientists speculated climate change could make it worse. They discussed how rising ocean temperatures make hurricanes more intense, and warmer atmospheres have higher amounts of water vapor, causing larger rainfall totals.

Since then, a new study published in “Environmental Research Letters” confirmed climate change was indeed a factor that gave Hurricane Harvey more power. It found environmental conditions associated with global warming made the storm more severe and increase the likelihood of similar events.

That same study also compared today’s storms with ones from 1900. It found that compared to those earlier weather phenomena, Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall was 15 percent more intense and three times as likely to happen now versus in 1900.

Warming oceans are one of the contributing factors. Specifically, the ocean’s surface temperature associated with the region where Hurricane Harvey quickly transformed from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane has become about 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer over the past few decades.

Michael Mann, a climatologist from Penn State University, believes that due to a relationship known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation, there was about 3-5 percent more moisture in the air, which caused more rain. To complicate matters even more, global warming made sea levels rise by more than 6 inches in the Houston area over the past few decades. Mann also believes global warming caused the stationery summer weather patterns that made Hurricane Harvey stop moving and saturate the area with rain. Mann clarifies although global warming didn’t cause Hurricane Harvey as a whole, it exacerbated several factors of the storm.

Also, statistics collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1901-2015 found the precipitation levels in the contiguous 48 states had gone up by 0.17 inches per decade. The EPA notes the increase is expected because rainfall totals tend to go up as the Earth’s surface temperatures rise and additional evaporation occurs.

The EPA’s measurements about surface temperature indicate for the same timespan mentioned above for precipitation, the temperatures have gotten 0.14 Fahrenheit hotter per decade. Also, although the global surface temperature went up by 0.15 Fahrenheit during the same period, the temperature rise has been faster in the United States compared to the rest of the world since the 1970s.

Severe Storms Cause a Loss of Productivity

Many people don’t immediately think of one important factor when discussing the aftermath of natural disasters: the adverse impact on productivity. Businesses and members of the workforce in Houston, Miami and other cities hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma suffered losses that may total between $150-200 billion when both damage and sacrificed productivity are accounted for, according to estimates from Moody’s Analytics.

Some workers who decide to leave their homes before storms arrive delay returning after the immediate danger has passed. As a result of their absences, a labor-force shortage may occur. News sources posted stories highlighting that the Houston area might not have enough construction workers to handle necessary rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey.

It’s not hard to imagine the impact heavy storms could have on business operations. However, companies that offer goods to help people prepare for hurricanes and similar disasters often find the market wants what they provide. While watching the paths of current storms, people tend to recall storms that took place years ago and see them as reminders to get prepared for what could happen.

Longer and More Disastrous Wildfires Require More Resources to Fight

The wildfires that ripped through millions of acres in the western region of the United States this year also made substantial contributions to the 2017 disaster-related expenses. The U.S. Forest Service, which is within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reported 2017 as its costliest year ever and saw total expenditures exceeding $2 billion.

The agency anticipates the costs will grow, especially when they take past data into account. In 1995, the U.S. Forest Service spent 16 percent of its annual budget for wildfire-fighting costs, but in 2015, the amount ballooned to 52 percent. The sheer number of wildfires last year didn’t help matters either. Between January 1 and November 24 last year, 54,858 fires broke out.

2017: Among the Three Hottest Years Recorded

People cause the majority of wildfires, but climate change acts as another notable contributor. In addition to affecting hurricane intensity, rising temperatures help fires spread and make them harder to extinguish.

Data collected by the National Interagency Fire Center and published by the EPA highlighted a correlation between the largest wildfires and the warmest years on record. The extent of damage caused by wildfires has gotten worse since the 1980s, but became particularly severe starting in 2000 during a period characterized by some of the warmest years the U.S. ever recorded.

Things haven’t changed for the better, either. In mid-December of 2017, the World Meteorological Organization released a statement announcing the year would likely end as one of the three warmest years ever recorded. A notable finding since the group looks at global land and ocean temperature, not just statistics associated with the United States.

Not all the most financially impactful weather events in 2017 were hurricanes and wildfires. Some of the other issues that cost over $1 billion included a hailstorm in Colorado, tornados in several regions of the U.S. and substantial flooding throughout Missouri and Arkansas.

Although numerous factors gave these natural disasters momentum, scientists know climate change was a defining force — a reality that should worry just about everyone.

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Environment

How to be More eco-Responsible in 2018

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eco-responsible
Shutterstock / By KENG MERRY Paper Art | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/kengmerrymikeymelody

Nowadays, more and more people are talking about being more eco-responsible. There is a constant growth of information regarding the importance of being aware of ecological issues and the methods of using eco-friendly necessities on daily basis.

Have you been considering becoming more eco-responsible after the New Year? If so, here are some useful tips that could help you make the difference in the following year:

1. Energy – produce it, save it

If you’re building a house or planning to expand your living space, think before deciding on the final square footage. Maybe you don’t really need that much space. Unnecessary square footage will force you to spend more building materials, but it will also result in having to use extra heating, air-conditioning, and electricity in it.

It’s even better if you seek professional help to reduce energy consumption. An energy audit can provide you some great piece of advice on how to save on your energy bills.

While buying appliances such as a refrigerator or a dishwasher, make sure they have “Energy Star” label on, as it means they are energy-efficient.

energy efficient

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By My Life Graphic

Regarding the production of energy, you can power your home with renewable energy. The most common way is to install rooftop solar panels. They can be used for producing electricity, as well as heat for the house. If powering the whole home is a big step for you, try with solar oven then – they trap the sunlight in order to heat food! Solar air conditioning is another interesting thing to try out – instead of providing you with heat, it cools your house!

2. Don’t be just another tourist

Think about the environment, as well your own enjoyment – try not to travel too far, as most forms of transport contribute to the climate change. Choose the most environmentally friendly means of transport that you can, as well as environmentally friendly accommodation. If you can go to a destination that is being recommended as an eco-travel destination – even better! Interesting countries such as Zambia, Vietnam or Nicaragua are among these destinations that are famous for its sustainability efforts.

3. Let your beauty be also eco-friendly

eco-friendly

Shutterstock / By Khakimullin Aleksandr

We all want to look beautiful. Unfortunately, sometimes (or very often) it comes with a price. Cruelty-free cosmetics are making its way on the world market but be careful with the labels – just because it says a product hasn’t been tested on animals, it doesn’t  mean that some of the product’s ingredients haven’t been tested on some poor animal.

To be sure which companies definitely stay away from the cruel testing on animals, check PETA Bunny list of cosmetic companies just to make sure which ones are truly and completely cruelty-free.

It’s also important if a brand uses toxic ingredients. Brands such as Tata Harper Skincare or Dr Bronner’s use only organic ingredients and biodegradable packaging, as well as being cruelty-free. Of course, this list is longer, so you’ll have to do some online research.

4. Know thy recycling

People often make mistakes while wanting to do something good for the environment. For example, plastic grocery bags, take-out containers, paper coffee cups and shredded paper cannot be recycled in your curb for many reasons, so don’t throw them into recycling bins. The same applies to pizza boxes, household glass, ceramics, and pottery – whether they are contaminated by grease or difficult to recycle, they just can’t go through the usual recycling process.

People usually forget to do is to rinse plastic and metal containers – they always have some residue, so be thorough. Also, bottle caps are allowed, too, so don’t separate them from the bottles. However, yard waste isn’t recyclable, so any yard waste or junk you are unsure of – just contact rubbish removal services instead of piling it up in public containers or in your own yard.

5. Fashion can be both eco-friendly and cool

Believe it or not, there are actually places where you can buy clothes that are eco-friendly, sustainable, as well as ethical. And they look cool, too! Companies like Everlane are very transparent about where their clothes are manufactured and how the price is set. PACT is another great company that uses non-GMO, organic cotton and non-toxic dyes for their clothing, while simultaneously using renewable energy factories. Soko is a company that uses natural and recycled materials in making their clothes and jewelry.

All in all

The truth is – being eco-responsible can be done in many ways. There are tons of small things we could change when it comes to our habits that would make a positive influence on the environment. The point is to start doing research on things that can be done by every person and it can start with the only thing that person has the control of – their own household.

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