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At midnight this Sunday, Gabriel Carlyle of the Divest East Sussex campaign is beginning a 60-hour fast to highlight the need for fossil fuel divestment.

Why I’m fasting for fossil fuel divestment

On Wednesday East Sussex County Council is expected to vote on whether to stop investing local people’s pensions in fossil fuels. St Leonards resident Gabriel Carlyle explains why he’s taking part in a 60-hour fast in the run-up to the vote.

On Monday 20 July, I’ll be taking part in a 60-hour fast demanding that East Sussex County County Council (ESCC) stops investing local people’s pensions in the giant fossil fuel companies that are driving the climate crisis.

I’ve been asked why I’m taking part in this action. Here are five reasons.

1: This is a climate emergency.

In the wake of the Met Office’s recent unprecedented Red Extreme heat warning it might seem like this doesn’t need saying.

In fact, from cyclones in Mozambique to fires in California, we’ve long been witnessing the deadly impacts of global warming, particularly in the Global South.

However, we’ve yet to see anything like the ‘rapid, far- reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society’ that climate scientists say are necessary if we’re to avoid future catastrophe.

Without rapid and drastic cuts in emissions from fossil fuels the impacts of climate change will continue to get worse, with potentially calamitous effects on food security and billions exposed to major heatwaves each year by 2040.

Divestment aims to create the conditions whereby these emissions cuts finally take place.

Local councillors who support divestment at the front of the “Climate Crime Scene” protest

2: Divestment goes to the heart of the crisis

According to climate scientist Michael Mann: ‘The truth is, if we took the disinformation campaign funded by the fossil fuel industry out of the equation, the climate problem would have been solved decades ago.’

Indeed, fossil fuel companies have spent decades blocking effective action on climate change – efforts that continue to this day.

For example,since 2015 Exxon, Shell, Chevron, BP and Total have together spent over $1bn on misleading climate-related branding and lobbying, aimed at undermining the Paris Climate Agreement.

Undermining the political power and influence of the fossil fuel lobby is therefore a key strategic goal of the global climate movement.

This is what divestment – that is, getting institutions like the East Sussex Pension Fund (which is administered by ESCC) to make public commitments to ditch their investments in fossil fuels – is all about.

3: Divestment works

Go Fossil Free Campaign: https://gofossilfree.org/

The aim of the global divestment movement is to create the conditions whereby fossil fuel companies are publicly acknowledged to be ‘wrong enough to legislate against’.

This is strategy with a proven track record.

Indeed, a 2013 study by academics at the Univerity of Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment concluded that: ‘In almost every divestment campaign we reviewed from adult services to Darfur, from tobacco to South Africa, divestment campaigns were successful in lobbying for restrictive legislation affecting stigmatised firms.’

Thus far, over 1,500 institutions around the world – collectively worth over $40 trillion – have made some form of divestment commitment.

We need East Sussex County Council and the East Sussex Pension Fund to join them.

4: The Council’s alternative policy (‘engagement’) has been an abject failure.

BORC report cover

To date, Bexhill Town Council, Brighton & Hove City Council, Hastings Borough Council, Lewes District Council, Lewes Town Council, Peacehaven Town Council, UNISON, Maria Caulfield MP (Cons, Lewes) and Caroline Lucas MP (Green, Brighton Pavilion) have all called on the Fund to divest from fossil fuels – something that it has repeatedly refused to do.

Instead, the County Council has continued to promote and defend a failed policy of ‘shareholder engagement’ with fossil fuel companies that has been an abject failure.

Indeed, despite years of shareholder engagement not a single major oil company can credibly be argued to be aligned with a 1.5°C pathway.

For example, one recent (May 2022) analysis from Oil Change International concluded that the climate plans of BP, Chevron, ENI, equinor, ExxonMobil, Repsol, Shell and TotalEnergies all remain ‘grossly insufficient to the bare minimum required for limiting warming to 1.5ºC’.

As academics Dario Kenner and Richard Heede have noted, ‘what the executives and directors [of companies like BP, Shell, Exxon and Chevron] have in common is a desire to maintain demand for oil and gas, and to defend their company’s social license to operate’.

The never-ending process of ‘shareholder engagement’ and its associated greenwash plays into this:

‘When BP, Shell and others talk of net zero, they are trying to stay part of the decision-making process. They want to be in charge of the transition as much as possible so they can slow it down – that is the whole point of trying to convince society to trust them… It can’t be just about what Shell is doing or BP. It must be industry-wide. And should be about acting on climate science and phasing out oil and gas in line with a 1.5°C target.’
Dario Kenner

5: Public protest can help drag the Council’s hypocrisy into the light.

Protestors outside County Hall at recent Bang the Drum protest.

Despite declaring a ‘climate emergency’ over 2½ years ago, ESCC is still investing local people’s pensions in the giant oil companies that are driving the climate crisis.

Not only is this hypocrisy on a grand scale, but by clinging on to these investments the Council is actually providing a fig-leaf for these companies’ ongoing attempts to block effective climate action.

It can only get away with this because most people don’t even know that it’s happening.

Public protest – like our fast – can help to change this.

Divestment campaigners will be vigiling outside County Hall between 8am – 9.45am this Wednesday 20 July, before going in to County Hall to observe the vote. Members of the public are encouraged to take 2 mins to visit this link and email the decision-makers before the vote.

For more information and background, or to join the campaign, visit the Divest East Sussex website.

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Posted 16:58 Sunday, Jul 17, 2022 In: Campaigns

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