It’s been 45 years since the first Earth Day, and, as I was reminded when reading this brief history, some 20 million Americans — one in 10 of us — participated on April 22, 1970. That took organizing. And it delivered results: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, laws regulating the disposal of hazardous waste and the quality of drinking water, and the Toxic Substances Control Act, regulating chemicals in food, drugs and cosmetics. Such was the power of the environmental movement.
I’m inclined to think that environmentalists today ought to devote more of our money and time towards building or rebuilding that movement. Some–Bill McKibben, 350.org, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace–are trying to do so, but other, big, well-funded organizations continue to play the “inside” game, working to persuade elites–federal, state and local officials, corporate executives, investors–to change. Success will require both grass-roots power and policy change, to be sure, but without a more powerful movement, “inside” strategies aren’t going to get us where we need to go.
Last week in The Guardian, I wrote about the Carbon Asset Risk initiative, a campaign coordinated by Ceres and Carbon Tracker, with support from the Global Investor Coalition. To succeed, this campaign will require action by the SEC, investors and the boards of directors and executives of oil companies who, if all goes according to plan, will shift their capital outlays into low-carbon energy.
Here’s how my story begins:
Can fossil fuel companies be transformed into allies in the fight against climate change?
As unlikely as it might seem, a coalition of environmental groups and investors is trying to persuade coal, oil and gas companies to turn away from carbon-polluting sources of energy and invest in low-carbon alternatives.
Ceres, a Boston-based network of investors, companies and nonprofits, andCarbon Tracker, a London-based nonprofit that has popularized the notion of a “carbon bubble,” have organized a new campaign around carbon asset risks.
The campaign aims to get fossil fuel companies first to disclose the risks created by their dependence on carbon-intensive assets, and then, as Ceres puts it, “ensure they are using shareholder capital prudently” in a world that takes “the economic threat of climate change seriously.” Not today’s world, needless to say, but a world that the groups fervently hope will arrive in the not too distant future.
I dearly hope to be proven wrong but, much as I admire the people at Ceres, my gut reaction to this strategy is….are you kidding me?
As The Guardian reported last week, BP (“Beyond Petroleum”) invested billions of dollars in clean and low-carbon energy in the 1980s and 1990s “but later abandoned meaningful efforts to move away from fossil fuels.”
Now Ceres wants the SEC and Wall Street to persuade BP to invest in clean energy. Again.
I’m tempted to wrap up with the overused cliche about insanity, but I’ll resist.
You can read the rest of my story here.