What do the British Medical Association, Stanford University and the Uniting Church of Australia have in common with Missy Higgins, John Butler and Ash Grunwald?
The fossil fuel divestment movement that has taken the world by storm has featured in these pages quite frequently, as new institutions come on board and the evidence stacks up that investing in coal is not just an environmental disaster but also a fundamentally myopic investment decision.
It is, of course, important to engage in the detailed debate about coal’s future. The disconnect between the expansion push and the clear evidence that markets are rapidly drying up needs to be exposed.
Investment is, at least in part, guided by the accumulation of evidence. Contributing to that evidence by showing that new mines, rail lines and ports will become multi-billion dollar white elephants as China and India ratchet up their limits on coal use and their roll-out of solar and wind power, is vital to shifting investment priorities.
But investment is based on more than evidence. It is also based on social and cultural factors, a weighing up of how broadly acceptable it is to put money behind certain products, and, undeniably, an aspect of herd mentality. Why else would we see terms like “bull market” so widely used?
The magic of the divestment campaign is that it combines these two aspects to create a heady mix of evidence that coal is a poor investment and growing social and cultural pressure to recognise that, as Bill McKibben says, “if it’s wrong to wreck the climate, it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.”
The Amplify Divestment campaign, a partnership between Green Music Australia and divestment groups Market Forces and 350.org, takes on the cultural side of the mix directly, working to involve some of our most culturally influential people – musicians.
Musicians influence the clothes we wear and the food we eat. With their lyrics, they literally put words in our mouths. And, for generations, musicians have been at the forefront of social change battles, from civil rights in the USA to Indigenous justice in Australia, from nuclear disarmament to feminist and queer equality movements.
Musicians who sign up to Amplify Divestment have pledged to move their money out of banks and/or superannuation funds that are financially supporting the fossil fuel industry. They have also committed to promoting the campaign to their fans and encouraging them to get their money out of fossil fuels.
While musicians instinctively know that fans won’t appreciate being lectured to, they also understand the impact of heart-felt, honest statements about their feelings. That’s their stock in trade. And it’s why their involvement in campaigns should never be shrugged off.
Have a read, for example, of the letter Rob Hirst, drummer from Midnight Oil, wrote to ANZ explaining his reasons for putting them on notice and threatening to divest:
I’ve been a loyal customer since 1978, when you gave our young band a loan to get started. Thank you for that. Most banks wouldn’t have taken the risk.
Thanks also for refusing to bankroll Gunns Ltd’s proposed Bell Bay pulp mill in Tasmania in 2008. That was a bold decision and sent a powerful message to polluters.
Now I’m asking for one more thing. Please discontinue the funding of all fossil-fuel mining companies, by allowing existing contracts to lapse, and by denying assistance to future parties who seek your help. In the face of a reckless disregard for the earth’s future by the current Australian Government, it is up to the rest of us to take a stand.
Thank you ANZ. Investment in clean energy will be a win for everyone.
And here’s what Missy Higgins wrote to her fans on Facebook, explaining what she is doing and asking them to follow suit:
“Hey Guys, I just found out that my bank has loaned over $6.5 billion to dirty fossil fuels since 2008. I don’t know about you but I don’t like my money being used to accelerate climate change, it seems insane in this day and age. I’d much prefer my money to be funding renewable energy projects and development, things that might actually save our planet rather than destroy it. So I’ve written to my bank and told them that if they keep funding fossil fuels I am going to leave. It’s our money, we should be able to decide what it’s invested in, don’t you think?”
As more and more musicians – rock, pop, blues, classical – join up and spread the word, they will amplify the message being sent by individuals, experts and civil society institutions to the point where investors won’t be able to put their fingers in their ears and ignore it any longer.
“Coal is wrong. We want no part of it.”
Sing it, brothers and sisters!