Rising for climate, jobs and justice: get the frack out of our pension funds

Photo credit: Brooke Anderson, Survival Media Agency

This summer Scandinavian scientists watched thousands-of-years-old ice melt in just a matter of weeks, whilst wildfires in the Swedish Arctic circle spread rapidly due to hot, dry conditions, and fire tornadoes burnt through parts of California. Crop failures hit Europe and 1000 people in the UK died due to heat-related illnesses. The strongest typhoon to hit Japan’s mainland in 25 years killed 200 people, and 69,000 people died and hundreds of thousands were displaced in Kerala, Southern India due to an incredibly intense rainy season. On top of that, rates of sea level rise have tripled over the past five years.  Are we witnessing the end of ‘normality’?

Hot and dry conditions contributed to “unprecedented” wildfires across Saddleworth Moor in northern England, forcing hundreds to flee their homes.

Photo credit: Allan Bentley/Cavendish

Given the ecological boundaries we have already crossed, adaptation to a world where our climate has changed dramatically is a high priority and was certainly a popular talking point in the mainstream media coverage of the UK heatwave this summer. But by focusing on how to adapt to the flames burning around us, talk of how to disrupt the arsonists fuelling the fire is largely being sidelined. Beyond air conditioning and buildings being ill-designed for a warming world, a new UN commissioned report confirms that the entire economic system of capitalism and mainstream economics is unsuited to facilitate the societal transformations required to address climate change.

The profit-first ideology of capitalism - and the state - has allowed emissions and fossil fuel exploitation to continue with little interruption in the face of climate disaster. We’re seeing the most recent manifestation of this in the UK’s maniacal push for non-renewable energy production, namely fracking.

Divesting in the future

But there are also many people uniting against those at the frontier of extreme fossil fuel extraction and production. Using the logic that wreaking havoc with planetary stability and human lives is wrong, profiting from such suffering must certainly be accepted as immoral. The fossil fuel divestment movement is thus demanding a financial shift away from an industry that is perpetuating visible harm to humanity. Divestment highlights that investing in new or existing fossil fuel extraction projects is truly nonsensical given that the world’s remaining known coal, oil, and gas reserves cannot be burned if we are to avoid unravelling the terrifying conditions of a forewarned ‘hothouse earth’.

Recent research has revealed that local governments have invested £9 billion in the fracking industry – an industry with no social license in the UK- through council pension funds. In the UK, fracking and democracy are, unsurprisingly, not mixing well and despite councils such as Lancashire having voted against shale gas extraction, the government overruled this decision. Fracking is about to commence for the first time in seven years in the UK. But with support from just 18% of UK citizens and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland planning policies against it, funding the industry through pension funds is questionable to say the least.

In 2015, a UK government report that concluded shale gas extraction decreases local and regional air quality was left unpublished for three years, only to be released four days after ministers approved fracking in Lancashire. Given that over 40,000 people already die each year in the UK from illnesses related to air pollution, further industrialising the countryside for fracking threatens the wellbeing of the immediate locality and will contribute unnecessary global harm through greenhouse gases we cannot afford to emit.

Developing a fracking industry in the UK is likely to displace renewable development, especially given the regressive policy changes already deployed. Moreover, fracking is incompatible with the government’s own emission targets, as concluded in a report that the government itself commissioned. But UK council pension funds are funnelling money into the likes of BP, who has been calculating enough to avoid the PR disaster of fracking in the UK. Instead, they are ‘outsourcing’ harm to other countries like Argentina, dispossessing pear farmers from their land.  So, whilst UK activists continue to resist fracking on their doorsteps, a growing divestment movement in the UK recognises investments as complicity in harm.

Resisting the fossil fuel era

By providing a space for a diverse civil society to politicise fossil fuel investments, divestment can allow discussions to begin around reinvestment and energy democratisation. Whilst the ‘Go Fossil Free’ campaign is demanding that cities and towns reclaim control of their funds to ensure that not one penny more is directly or indirectly funding climate change, UNISON –the public sector union – began a campaign in January to divest local government pension funds away from carbon.

Fossil Free demonstration at the University College London in 2017

Meanwhile, since 2012, student momentum has pressured two thirds of UK universities to divest over £80 billion, with several also pledging to reinvest in low-carbon energy sources. Additionally, to erode big oil’s public and political influence, a relentless campaign to kick BP out of the arts continues. Activists within UK churches are demanding that asset divestment proceed more rapidly, and the Trade Union Congress voted to back public ownership of energy and begin a rapid climate transition and divestment from fossil fuels.

People across seven continents demonstrated last week to demand that political leaders take climate breakdown seriously and bring an end to the fossil fuel era; invest in local decentralised renewable energy, and ensure a just transition for people as these necessary shifts take place. 30,000 people marched in San Francisco days before the Global Climate Action Summit was held there in September, whilst elsewhere over 900 demonstrations in 95 countries took place.

A shameless UK government and its dash for fossil gas is a reflection of the continued lack of accountability for climate breakdown. But what the UK divestment movement is increasingly highlighting is that if it’s unacceptable to frack in the UK, then it is unacceptable for UK citizens to be funding the likes of BP and inflict the dirty industry on Argentina; fossil gas is just another fuel that is fanning the flames of our warming world and must be left in the ground.

To join one of the many local resistance groups to fracking in the UK, a growing list can be found here.

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