Why We Escalated Our Call for Bill and Melinda Gates to Divest from Fossil Fuels

by Alec Connon

On Tuesday, local activists calling on the Gates Foundation to divest from fossil fuels escalated their tactics as they marched on the Gates Foundation with Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir. Organizer Alec Connon explains why.

Catastrophic climate change is here. We can no longer dismiss it as something distant, something far off, something that that only our kids and our grand kids have to worry about. Its impacts are here and they are now.

Climate change was a precipitating factor in the severe 5-year drought that contributed to the collapse of Syria; the world’s coral reefs are wilting and dying; the Arctic and the world’s glaciers are melting; our wildlife is disappearing at a rate that scientists are calling a mass extinction; superstorms rip holes in our nation at a rate never before imagined; while even here in Washington, in one of the richest states in the richest nation in the history of the planet, the blows of climate change are already being felt: our snowpacks have plummeted, our drinking waters are dangerously low and record breaking wildfires have scorched our lands and burned our homes.    

Yet coal, oil, and gas companies push forward, close their eyes, and plunder on: Exploring for more oil, more gas, more coal in ever more extreme climes.

Shell’s unexpected U-turn on its Arctic operation gave the environmental community here in Seattle a rare something to celebrate; yet, at the same time as activists were raising a glass and congratulating themselves on a hard won fight, an oil rig by the name of Goliat, a 65,000 ton monster that is more than a match for the Polar Pioneer in terms of sheer Earth-shattering power, was heading to the Arctic. Goliat was developed by energy firms Eni Norge and Statoil. It cost an astronomical $5.5 billion to develop and if successfully deployed in the coming months, it will become the northernmost oil rig on the planet.

According to their most recent tax filings, the Gates Foundation Asset Trust, the financial arm of the Gates Foundation, has some $2.7 million invested in Statoil; in Goliat and Arctic drilling.

With great power comes great responsibility, as they say. And with Bill and Melinda Gates holding court as the wealthiest couple in the history of the planet, they carry more responsibility than most to address the impacts of the gravest threat ever to have faced our planet: climate change. Furthermore, the responsibility of Bill and Melinda to act is one that is doubly powerful, for the influence they wield is both economic and moral.

“When the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation moves around pieces of its investment portfolio, people stand up and take notice,” commented the Non-Profit Quarterly. And that hints at one reason why it is so important that Bill and Melinda commit to fossil fuel divestment and renounce profits from companies who, at the expense of the planet’s most vulnerable people and species, ignore the warnings of science and continue to sink billions of dollars into Arctic drilling projects: Bill and Melinda are leaders – and where leaders go, people follow.

However, Bill and Melinda’s power extends far beyond the economy; as the founders and trustees of the world’s largest global health charity (and its financial arm, the Gates Foundation Asset Trust) they also hold the power to advance the moral argument surrounding the fossil fuel industry. And that is the whole premise of the divestment movement.

We will only curtail global warming when governments worldwide effectively regulate those companies whose current economic models depend upon massive climate destabilization.   For this to happen, the fossil fuel companies need to be broadly called out for their recklessness and destruction. They need to be delegitimized, and that is something that begins with divestment.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who credits the South African divestment movement with contributing deeply to the demise of Apartheid, says now that “people of conscience need to break their ties with the corporations financing the injustice of climate change.”

And that is true, but we are fast running out of time. The Alaskan and Siberian permafrost is already melting, with hundreds of thousands of years’ worth of stored methane just waiting to be released.

And that is why, five weeks of silence had followed our polite initial outreach, we marched on the Gates Foundation with a choir by our sides.

We marched because we need our leaders now. Not tomorrow, today. And we need – the planet needs – Bill and Melinda to stand up and renounce the climate change denying and causing fossil fuel industry in the most unambiguous of ways – by joining the fossil fuel divestment movement.

More information at www.gatesdivest.org

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