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What fossil fuel divestment can learn from apartheid



Many things contributed to the end of the South African apartheid – the racial segregation system that, after decades of pressure, was eventually abandoned. But one of the most important factors was western divestment from South African companies that profited from the apartheid regime. The modern day campaign to divest from fossil fuels should be encouraged by this victory.

This piece originally featured in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Climate Change 2013.

People power succeeded and common sense prevailed when South Africa eventually ended apartheid in the early 90s. The decision – the result of three years of negotiations and decades of intense campaigning – was made concrete when Nelson Mandela became the country’s first black president in 1994.

A lifelong anti-apartheid activist, Mandela had spent 27 years in prison for treason. But his rise to leader marked the beginning of a new chapter – not just for South Africa, but for racial equality across the globe.

This victory owes a lot to divestment, particularly by western countries. In the 80s, many decided to boycott South African businesses in protest to the apartheid regime. Less than a decade later, Mandela was free and apartheid had ended.

Writing in the Huffington Post in 2010, eminent archbishop and Nobel peace prize winner Desmond Tutu said, “In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom and just peace without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime.”

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The real traction in the apartheid divestment campaign came from the US, where students from universities had set up protest groups to urge institutions to invest elsewhere. Perhaps the most influential was the University of California, Berkeley, where sustained pressure led to the divestment of over $1.7 billion in 1986.

In a blog post, Steve Masover – who as a student was part of Berkeley’s divestment campaign – recalled a 1990 speech by Mandela in nearby Oakland Coliseum.

He said, “In the course of thanking solidarity organizations for working to end South African apartheid and his own 27-year imprisonment, Mandela acknowledged the Campaign Against Apartheid by name – yes, our little homegrown campus organisation – as a notable contributor in the struggle to which he and his compatriots had dedicated their lives.

I’ll never forget the validation that brief mention conferred on our hard work and sleepless nights. Mandela – who represented the actual vanguard of anti-apartheid struggle – was telling us that what we’d done had mattered, had substantively contributed to a liberation struggle on the other side of the world.”

Comparisons can be drawn between the apartheid divestment campaigns of the 80s and the fossil fuel divestment campaigns of the 21st century. Led by environmentalist Bill McKibben and his project, students from campuses across the US have clubbed together to urge their institutions to pull out of the oil, gas and coal sectors, with the climate change imperative being their number one motivation.

In’s film, Do the Math, McKibben says, “It is inconsistent with the purposes of these institutions to invest in something that is dedicated to the destruction of civilisation.”

The likes of Harvard, Stanford and Yale all have active divestment campaign groups. Many are urging their colleges to instead invest in energy efficiency measures, taking the view that the cheapest and cleanest energy of all is that which we don’t use.

But it’s not just universities that have latched on to the divestment message. Whole cities in the US are boycotting fossil fuels, including the likes of San Francisco, New York and Seattle.

Mike McGinn, mayor of Seattle, whose employee pension fund is divesting, described the move asjust one of the steps we can take to address the climate crisis.” One step, maybe, but a giant leap forward in’s campaign.

However, the impact of divestment divides opinion. In the case of South Africa, while divestment campaigns may have worked wonders in raising public awareness and cleaning consciences, some are sceptical about whether they actually had a material impact.

A 1999 study by Siew Hong Teoh, Ivo Welch and C Paul Wazzan, which analysed the effect of divestment in South Africa, said, “Despite the prominence and publicity of the boycott and the multitude of divesting companies, the financial markets’ valuations of targeted companies or even the South African financial markets themselves were not easily visibly affected.

The sanctions may have been effective in raising the public moral standards or public awareness of South African repression, but it appears that financial markets managed to avoid the brunt of the sanctions.”

There is a distinct and important difference between the divestment campaigns of apartheid and fossil fuels, though. That is, the modern day fossil fuel divestment campaign is based primarily on a financial argument. Fossil fuels may be polluting our fragile atmosphere, but once their impact on climate change is factored in, they become an unsustainable investment.

In contrast, the apartheid campaigns were based almost exclusively on arguments around ethics, morals and equality.

The Unburnable Carbon report by Carbon Tracker and the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute says that some 60-80% of oil, gas and coal reserves owned by fossil fuel firms listed on stock exchanges might need to be left in the ground if we want to stand a chance of tackling climate change.

Because of this fact alone, those campaigning for fossil fuel divestment argue that firms are therefore overvalued. More to the point, investors risk being left with so-called stranded assets – a term used to describe worthless stocks.

Pondering whether divestment works, Eric Hendey of the Harvard Political Review said in a 2012 article, “Divestment from select fossil fuel producers would send a powerful message to the energy industry and the nation. It would signal that America’s universities take the climate-energy challenge seriously.

Harvard has made significant strides in the area of sustainability, and our professors are also doing great work in this area. Adopting an investment strategy that encourages the development of renewable energy and lower-carbon fossil fuels could be an important piece of our university’s response to the coming energy challenge.”

Ultimately, investing in fossil fuels is unsustainable. The purpose of investment is to secure growth and income for the future. Wrecking the planet to secure a percentage does not make sense. When that percentage gain is questionable or non-existent and the real costs so high, the investment becomes unsustainable. Leaving the cost of cleaning things up to future generations is morally questionable.

There are commentators who argue that one person cannot make a difference – that what we do in the developed world will not make a difference due to the industrialisation taking place in developing countries. They encourage inaction and apathy through their dismal analysis. But one person can change the world and can certainly start a movement, from William Wilberforce to Rosa Parks; Nelson Mandela to Bill McKibben.

It boils down to a choice: apartheid apologist and climate change sceptic, or apartheid boycotter and climate change investor?

Which side of history would you want to be on?

Further reading:

Report says investing in fossil fuels is a ‘very risky decision’

Bill McKibben on fossil fuels: ‘divestment is the answer’

The UK canary in the carbon mine

Do ethical funds and fossil fuels mix?

The Guide to Climate Change 2013


How Going Green Can Save A Company Money



going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable




sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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