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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”

Features

Ways Green Preppers Are Trying to Protect their Privacy

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Environmental activists are not given the admiration that they deserve. A recent poll by Gallup found that a whopping 32% of Americans still doubt the existence of global warming. The government’s attitude is even worse.

Many global warming activists and green preppers have raised the alarm bell on climate change over the past few years. Government officials have taken notice and begun tracking their activity online. Even former National Guard officers have admitted that green preppers and climate activists are being targeted for terrorist watchlists.

Of course, the extent of their surveillance depends on the context of activism. People that make benign claims about climate change are unlikely to end up on a watchlist, although it is possible if they make allusions to their disdain of the government. However, even the most pacifistic and well intentioned environmental activists may unwittingly trigger some algorithm and be on the wrong side of a criminal investigation.

How could something like this happen? Here are some possibilities:

  • They could share a post on social media from a climate extremist group or another individual on the climate watchlist.
  • They could overly politicize their social media content, such as being highly critical of the president.
  • They could use figures of speech that may be misinterpreted as threats.
  • They might praise the goals of a climate change extremist organization that as previously resorted to violence, even if they don’t condone the actual means.

Preppers and environmental activists must do everything in their power to protect their privacy. Failing to do so could cost them their reputation, future career opportunities or even their freedom. Here are some ways that they are contacting themselves.

Living Off the Grid and Only Venturing to Civilization for Online Use

The more digital footprints you leave behind, the greater attention you draw. People that hold controversial views on environmentalism or doomsday prepping must minimize their digital paper trail.

Living off the grid is probably the best way to protect your privacy. You can make occasional trips to town to use the Wi-Fi and stock up on supplies.

Know the Surveillance Policies of Public Wi-Fi Providers

Using Wi-Fi away from your home can be a good way to protect your privacy.However, choosing the right public Wi-Fi providers is going to be very important.

Keep in mind that some corporate coffee shops such a Starbucks can store tapes for up to 60 days. Mom and pop businesses don’t have the technology nor the interest to store them that long. They generally store tips for only 24 hours and delete them afterwards. This gives you a good window of opportunity to post your thoughts on climate change without being detected.

Always use a VPN with a No Logging Policy

Using a VPN is one of the best ways to protect your online privacy. However, some of these providers do a much better job than others. What is a VPN and what should you look for when choosing one? Here are some things to look for when making a selection:

  • Make sure they are based in a country that has strict laws on protecting user privacy. VPNs that are based out of Switzerland, Panama for the British Virgin Islands are always good bets.
  • Look for VPN that has a strict no logging policy. Some VPNs will actually track the websites that you visit, which almost entirely defeats the purpose. Most obviously much better than this, but many also track Your connections and logging data. You want to use a VPN that doesn’t keep any logs at all.
  • Try to choose a VPN that has an Internet kill switch. This means that all content will stop serving if your VPN connection drops, which prevents your personal data from leaking out of the VPN tunnel.

You will be much safer if you use a high-quality VPN consistently, especially if you have controversial views on climate related issues or doomsday prepping.

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How Going Green Can Save Your Business Thousands

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Running a company isn’t easy. From reporting wages in an efficient way to meeting deadlines and targets, there’s always something to think about – with green business ideas giving entrepreneurs something extra to ponder. While environmental issues may not be at the forefront of your mind right now, it could save your business thousands, so let’s delve deeper into this issue.

Small waste adds up over time

A computer left on overnight might not seem like the end of the world, right? Sure, it’s a rather minor issue compared to losing a client or being refused a loan – but small waste adds up over time. Conserving energy is an effective money saver, so to hold onto that hard-earned cash, try to:

  • Turn all electrical gadgets off at the socket rather than leaving them on standby as the latter can crank up your energy bill without you even realizing.
  • Switch all lights off when you exit a room and try switching to halogen incandescent light bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps or light emitting diodes as these can use up to 80 per cent less energy than traditional incandescent and are therefore more efficient.
  • Replace outdated appliances with their greener counterparts. Energy Star appliances have labels which help you to understand their energy requirements over time.
  • Draught-proof your premises as sealing up leaks could slash your energy bills by 30 per cent.

Going electronic has significant benefits

If you don’t want to be buried under a mountain of paperwork, why not opt for digital documents instead of printing everything out? Not only will this save a lot of money on paper and ink but it will also conserve energy and help protect the planet. You may even be entitled to one of the many tax breaks and grants issued to organizations committed to achieving their environmental goals. This is particularly good news for start-ups with limited funds as the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) is keen to support companies opening up their company in a green manner.

Of course, if you’re used to handing out brochures and leaflets at every company meeting or printing out newsletters whenever you get the chance, going electronic may be a challenge – but here are some things you can try:

  • Using PowerPoint presentations not printouts
  • Communicating via instant messenger apps or email
  • Using financial software to manage your books
  • Downloading accounting software to keep track of figures
  • Arranging digital feedback and review forms
  • Making the most of Google Docs

Going green can help you to make money too

Going green and environmental stability is big news at the moment with many companies doing their bit for the environment. While implementing eco-friendly strategies will certainly save you money, reducing your carbon footprint could also make you a few bucks too. How? Well, consumers care about what brands are doing more than ever before, with many deliberately siding with those who are implementing green policies. Essentially, doing your bit for the environment is a PR dream as it allows you to talk about what everyone wants to hear.

Going green can certainly save your money but it should also improve your reputation too and give you a platform to promote your business.

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