It’s almost Valentine’s Day and all the ads tell me I must find the perfect, pink, heart-shaped gift for my sweetie. Or maybe I could go green? There have been a sprinkling of messages from environmental groups urging me to share tiny green hearts or send e-cards featuring nature-themed art and animal-inspired word plays. Still, I’m feeling pretty cynical about the whole thing.
The challenge with Valentine’s Day is that it presents love as shallow and saccharine. And that’s not the message I want to send to my husband and kids.
Fortunately, this February there’s a call to do something bigger. Global Divestment Day on the 13th and 14th invites us to show a little love to the earth – and in doing so, to show our friends and family that we care about them and their future. With this initiative, the global climate justice movement, spearheaded by 350.org, aims to build on momentum generated at the People’s Climate March in September 2014 when over 300,000 people marched in New York City’s streets to mobilize ambition and action on climate change.
Cinnamon Hearts to Global Finance
Global Divestment Day is a marker in the ongoing international divestment campaign. Individuals and organizations around the world have mobilized to get rid of stocks, bonds, and other funds currently invested in coal, oil, and gas companies. Fossil Free Canada leads the charge in Canada. They call on “institutions to immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies, and divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within 5 years.” Student groups, faith organizations, and others have mounted divestment campaigns aimed at specific schools, cities, and churches – including the Vatican. Others, like Citizens for Public Justice, have put internal policies in place to “avoid investments in non-renewable, extractive energy industries … or companies known to be involved in significant, on-going damage to the environment.”
Several universities (including Concordia, University of British Columbia, and many in the US and UK), numerous American and Australian municipalities, and dozens of religious institutions (including the World Council of Churches) have already agreed to shift their investment out of fossil fuels. Supporters of the divestment movement include US President Barack Obama, Ban Ki-moon, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. On Global Divestment Day, actions are taking place in communities across the country and around the world.
Global finance is certainly a few steps removed from the traditional Valentine’s Day fare, but if we’re talking about love, we’re talking about relationships. Toronto eco-theologian, Stephen Bede Sharper, has offered many reflections on the question of relationships – with our Creator, with our neighbours, and with animals. When contemplating human connections with the earth, he says that here too, “we are invited to a relationship with all of creation that involves affection, compassion, celebration, and joy. We are,” Sharper continues, “invited to fall in love with the Earth.”
The Fuss about Fossil Fuel Investments
In order to prevent catastrophic levels of warming and maintain the flourishing of the earth, the International Energy Agency calculates that the vast majority (75-80%) of known coal, oil, and gas reserves must stay underground. And yet, the economics of fossil fuel development depend on the identification of reserves and the promise (to investors) that these reserves will be extracted, shipped, refined, sold, and burned. Might is clearly winning over right. Despite Canada’s 2009 Copenhagen commitment to reduce its GHG emissions to 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020, the introduction of some modest regulations, and the phase out of coal-power in Ontario, Canadian GHG emissions are set to rise steadily between now and 2020. (The table below shows Canadian emission levels – measured in million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2005 and 2012, as well as the projection to 2020 and the cumulative 15-year change).
Change in GHG Emissions by Economic Sector (MT CO2E)
Source: Environment Canada (2014, p. 16). Note: LULUCF refers to the Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry Sector.
Driving rising emissions are the Alberta oil sands. Not only is bitumen extraction more emission-intense than traditional oil, but the oil sands operate without regulation, are subject only to a negligible provincial carbon levy, and, are set to continue expansion in the coming years. Prior to the recent slump in oil prices, Environment Canada emissions trends data anticipated a tripling of GHG emissions from the oil sands between 2005 and 2020.
Admittedly, in order to impact the fossil fuel industry economically, the scale of divestment would need to be significant. But the fight for the future of our planet isn’t just about dollars and cents. This is about caring for the earth. It is about the kind of environment we want to leave for our children and grandchildren. And, it is about understanding that climate change is fundamentally a moral issue. Where we spend our money and invest our resources should reflect our values and concerns. If in fact, we want to curb greenhouse gas emissions, slow the rate of climate change, and ensure a sustainable future, we must change our ways.
Speaking to The Guardian, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres indicated that churches and other civil society organizations can play an important role in building a robust international climate change agreement. On the question of divestment, she said that “Religious leaders should pull their money out of investments in fossil fuel companies and encourage their followers to do the same.” (The logical next step, then, would be to reinvest that same money in renewables).
So this Valentine’s Day, rather than reaching for chocolates or roses (the ethics of which are a whole other story), show your love to the earth, and those close to you, in a more meaningful, longer-lasting way. Participate in #GlobalDivestmentDay.