climate change

[OPINION] It’s not me, it’s you: Breaking up with fossil fuel

John Leo C. Algo

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[OPINION] It’s not me, it’s you: Breaking up with fossil fuel

Graphic by Raffy de Guzman

'As they say, there is someone out there who is more deserving of you'

Imagine you love someone who you think is the right person for you. But the reality is, while this person is treating you with kindness and respect, he/she is actually causing grave harm to others, maybe even to you without you realizing it. Once you find out the truth, wouldn’t you rather invest your time, effort, and love into someone more worthy?

Now think of that love as the money in your bank account. Have you ever wondered what happens to your money once you have entrusted it into a bank? Your money is basically invested by these institutions into businesses or ventures they deem profitable. In this way, your money grows, the bank profits, and that business earns. Everybody wins.

But does everybody really win? 

For example, the biggest banks in the Philippines continue to finance the construction of more coal-fired power plants. These facilities are one of the primary sources of greenhouse gases (GHGs), which when released into the atmosphere and oceans cause man-made global warming and climate change. Some of these plants also emit harmful air pollutants that cause respiratory diseases, among others, in nearby communities. 

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They say using coal for our energy generation is less costly, but what they do not want you to know in their reports is the costs of damage to lives and property. For instance, the extraction of fossil fuels through mining causes pollution of nearby water sources and destruction of terrestrial ecosystems, affecting the health and livelihoods of nearby residents. 

A recent global report shows that not only is climate change accelerating, but more disasters due to more extreme weather events are on the way without drastic GHG emissions cuts. Given these impacts, do you think it is right that your money is being invested in something that will destroy the very future you are saving your money for?

This is the rationale behind what is known as fossil fuel divestment: a movement of exerting social, political, and economic pressure for institutions to withdraw their assets such as stocks, bonds, and other modes of finance from companies involved in extracting fossil fuels, especially coal. These assets are then invested in more sustainable ventures, especially renewable energy. 

Divestment from fossil fuels is now a reality, and it has been happening worldwide. Currently, over $14 trillion worth of assets have been divested from coal, oil, and natural gas through the commitments of over 1,300 institutions and 58,000 individuals for more sustainable use of their funds. 

Fossil fuel divestment does not just apply to corporations and banks. In fact, out of all institutions that have committed to withdraw from dirty energy, 34% of them are faith-based; around 150 of these are Catholic institutions. Some of the world’s premier educational institutions, philanthropic foundations, governments, and non-government organizations have also broken free from fossil fuels in various degrees. 

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Of course, no one expects you to immediately move on after breaking from a toxic long-term relationship. What matters is that there is a clear commitment to avoid bad old habits and a sincere determination to change for the better. And as they say, there is someone out there who is more deserving of you. 

In a similar manner, a transition of such a massive amount of financial assets requires careful planning and execution. Yet given the urgency of putting an end to the destructive practices that have led to the climate crisis, environmental degradation, and social injustice, time is not on our side anymore. We need to hear our major banks commit to long-term targets and timelines for divesting from coal as soon as possible.

To claim that other profitable investment opportunities in renewable energy and other sustainable businesses do not exist in the Philippines is absurd. Not when the country hosts a mostly untapped potential of more than 27 gigawatts of renewables, including geothermal, wind, hydro, solar, biomass, and tidal energy. Not when global market trends and recent policy directives favor the decline of coal and the rise of renewables. 

With more and more institutions around the world already committing to divestment, those in our country simply have no excuses to not at the very least announce a just transition of their investment portfolios towards renewables and other more sustainable endeavors. 

It is unfathomable to think that those who have control of most of the world’s wealth and resources do not have the capacity to provide solutions to address the climate crisis. If they can quickly provide funding for their own trips to space, why can’t they act with the same urgency when it comes to protecting our common home, the only livable planet we have?

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When you know something is not right, do not be afraid to speak up. When you know a relationship is becoming harmful to your health and well-being without any signs of imminent change for the better, why not break free from it?

The time has come to redefine our perceptions of development. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that the “normal” to which we have been accustomed is no longer enough. As our world stops, the planet heals and reminds us that we must be a part of it, not own it. 

Do you want affordable, clean electricity? Do you want a healthier environment? Do you want your hard-earned money to be used the right way?

The best investments are not the ones that produce the most profit, but are those in which everyone benefits, including a more capable and resilient people and planet. Just look around; there is an option that is more worthy of your investment for your future. For love, health, or wealth, the same rules apply. –

John Leo Algo is the Deputy Executive Director for Programs and Campaigns of Living Laudato Si Philippines, and a member of the Withdraw from Coal network. This was written in commemoration of the 2021 Season of Creation. 

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