Banksliding and CalPERSiflage
Adventures in High-End Greenwashing
A long time ago, in a mythical realm called Glasgow COP 26, the world’s banks and assorted financiers piously assured us all that they were deeply serious about solving the climate crisis—many of them had even worked out an acronym, GFANZ, or Global Finance Alliance for Net Zero, to serve as the vessel for their concern.
Now they’ve left behind that fantastical kingdom, however, and Gulfstreamed back to the mundane world where avarice rules. And so they’ve begun to, as it were, bankslide. A few developments:
Global banks have turned on the money spigot for big oil. GFANZ stalwart Chase Bank “has underwritten some $2.5 billion in bond deals for companies like Gazprom PJSC and Continental Resources Inc., equivalent to the same period in previous years,” while Wells Fargo has managed to double the amount of cash it’s handing over to the climate-wreckers.
Blackrock, world’s largest pile of cash, has decided to lead a group that will invest $15.5 billion in Saudi Arabia’s natural-gas pipelines as the kingdom, in Bloomberg’s words, “opens up more to foreign companies and looks to fund a huge increase in fossil-fuel production.”
And to make their greenwashing job a little easier, Exxon released another cloud of smoke, promising to reduce emissions 20 % by 2030. No, wait, they promised to reduce “Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions” by 20% by 2030, which is to say the emissions from their, operations, not their, you know, product. Look for a lot of electric Ford F-150 pickups prowling the Permian.
It’s very clear that these guys have not committed to the public good—that so far their words are worthless. All of which means, basically, that civil society has no option but push harder—much harder—on the financial system.
And the perfect place to begin would be California, where a new report from Stand.earth makes clear that the public employee pension fund—CalPERS—and the teachers pension fund—CalSTRS—are the two biggest pension funds in the country, and among the biggest invesstors in the fossil fuel industry. Other big players: the Chicago teachers pension fund, Massachusetts public employees, and New York teachers; taken together, pension funds like these have about $81 billion invested in wrecking the planet. California teachers cannot seriously want their money fueling forest fires—and indeed county by county educators are standing up to the grandees that manage their retirement accounts. But they need to prevail soon, because climate change is happening now.
And it can happen. Inspired campaigns have freed pensioners from this moral burden (and financial drag) in New York City, Maine, Boston, San Diego, Quebec, Holland—on and on. Divestment has been the most widespread, and among the most effective, manifestations of the public demand for climate action, and it can keep spreading.
We just need to cut through the tangle of duplicitous verbiage that has become the weapon of choice for the fossil fuel indsutry and the financiers that orbit them. Yes to plain-speaking.