We’re going rogue with this year’s Think Before You Pink® campaign and connecting the dots between environmental racism, fossil fuel divestment, and the politics of breast cancer.
This week we’re focused on Fossil Fuel Divestment – what it is and how we can use divestment strategies individually and collectively to address and ultimately end breast cancer. Through large-scale divestment strategies, we can force the elimination of toxic environmental exposures caused by the oil and gas industry, and work toward the goal of preventing this disease before it starts.
Divestment is the opposite of investment. Fossil fuel divestment is the act of an organization or individual withdrawing financial support from the fossil fuel industry and its projects.
Our involuntary exposure to cancer-causing chemicals produced throughout the fossil fuel continuum, from extraction to production, increases with every extreme weather event, meaning our risk of developing breast cancer and other diseases is also rapidly increasing. By stopping the flow of money into the fossil fuel industry, accompanied by a just transition to renewable energy, we can turn the tide toward public health for all communities, especially those on the frontlines of oil and gas infrastructure.
Corporations and their shareholders reap the profits, but whose money keeps the fossil fuel industry in business? Banks provided $673 billion in funding to the industry last year.¹ Roughly $20.5 billion annually comes from the government and includes federal subsidies in the form of tax deductions, exemptions, and accounting tricks and loopholes.² Billions come from the investment of pension funds and endowments. Even US-based insurers hold fossil fuel-related assets, worth an estimated $536 billion in 2019.³
Particularly loud in a capitalist society, money talks. A company or corporation responds to public pressure when their bottom line is affected, and this is true for small retailers as well as mega-corporations. One effective way to get the attention of a bad actor is to withdraw financial support, or divest.
Colleges and universities have led divestment movements starting in the 1970s when students pressured their schools to divest from companies that supported apartheid in Africa. As of last month, educational institutions make up 15.8% of the 1597 institutions globally divesting from fossil fuels. So far that’s $40.51 trillion in institutional divestment from fossil fuels.⁴
The University of California became the largest educational system in the US to divest, and California State University followed suit the following year in 2021. UC Berkeley alone has an endowment of $13.4 billion, so we can get a sense of the collective impact this can have. Even so, of the 32 public universities in the state, board members at one-third of them are either former or current employees of oil and gas companies, presenting a glaring conflict of interest.
Public pension funds in a growing number of states are divesting, not only in response to the climate crisis, but because energy divestment makes financial sense. A recent study done at the University of Waterloo analyzed the performance of six very large pension funds between 2013 and 2022. They found that the cumulative value of the public equity portfolios would have been $21 billion more had they divested from the energy sector 10 years ago.⁵
There is rapidly growing public awareness of the current climate crisis, both in the U.S. and internationally. Getting to the root causes of this crisis enables us to strategize in order to do something about it. Big Oil is the primary driver of the current climate chaos, a crisis that impacts our breast cancer community and all vulnerable communities disproportionately. See our resources, The Climate Crisis and Breast Cancer and Why We Must Stop Fossil Fuels Infographics.
For the past 100 years, the oil and gas industry has been slowly infiltrating finance and political arenas on a global scale, through lobbying, campaign contributions, and the revolving door of oil company CEOs becoming legislators and vice versa. Now we learn that the industry knew at least 50 years ago that their extraction and production practices would create this climate crisis.They suppressed their own researcher’s evidence and kept it from the public in order to maximize profits at the expense of public health and human decency.
Many individuals, organizations, and coalitions have been working hard to stop Big Oil’s impact on public health and the destruction of the planet. One of the tactics has been demanding accountability by taking the industry to court. Beginning in 2018 with Rhode Island, there are now more than 20 cities and states that have filed lawsuits. Groups of young people in Oregon and Montana have filed suits, taking a stand to protect their future, and now people in Italy and France are stepping up. We have to wonder: will the climate crisis be what brings our deeply divided world together?
Another effective tactic is divestment, not only by large institutions, but collectively as individuals. With the growing awareness of shady corporate practices, young investors in particular are looking for companies that focus on sustainability and environmental justice. They often look to ESG investing, a rating that indicates a company has been determined to meet standards of environmental, social, and corporate governance, considered the three “pillars” in the ESG framework. This type of investing now takes into consideration climate change, human rights, and adherence to laws.
But even a few oil companies have garnered an ESG rating. It’s up to us to do our own research and vetting, if we’re going to invest effectively in our future. Under capitalism, there will always be greenwashers, or other bad actors hoping to deceive the public for another 50 years.
Even if you don’t have discretionary income, collectively we can move our checking and savings accounts to institutions that don’t fund fossil fuels, such as community banks and credit unions. If you want to invest, look into a company’s ESG rating.
The potential impact of our collective divestment holds the greatest promise for dismantling the fossil fuel industry, an industry that has, both directly and indirectly, destroyed communities and exacerbated the breast cancer crisis. The fossil fuel industry has willingly fueled the climate crisis which has exponentially affected people with and at risk for breast cancer. Unprecedented extreme weather events are saturating our environment with toxins linked to this disease.
We have the science, the tools, and the solutions to demand divestment, stop fossil fuels, and halt the climate crisis with the ultimate goal of addressing and ending breast cancer. We just need the political will.
Join us by engaging in and sharing our political education materials throughout Think Before You Pink Goes Rogue. Together we will strengthen our community of breast cancer activists, align our shared understandings of the politics of breast cancer, and ultimately build the collective power necessary to achieve health justice for all.
Follow us on Facebook and Instagram at @bcaction and stay tuned throughout the week as we release ways to take collective action and work toward a world in which people and communities thrive because they are healthy, liberated, and free from breast cancer.
BCAction is amplifying three ways to take during this year’s Think Before You Pink campaign, and the action accompanying this week’s materials on fossil fuel divestment is California’s Senate Bill 252 (SB 252) – The Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill.
SB 252 will require CalPERS and CalSTRS—the two largest public pension funds in the country—to divest over $14 billion from fossil fuel companies.
To see all three ways to take action during Think Before You Pink Goes Rogue, visit our Take Action page.
There is hope, so eloquently described by former Vice President and climate change expert Al Gore, Jr., in his 20-minute interview with The New Yorker editor, David Remnick. It won’t be easy and it will take all of us taking a stand if we want to survive and thrive but “We Have a Switch We Can Flip.”
¹ Rainforest Action Network, et.al.,”Banking on Climate Chaos 2022.”
² Environmental and Energy Study Institure, “Fossil Fuel Subsidies: A Closer Look at Tax Breaks and Societal Costs,” July 29, 2019.
³ Binnie, I., “US insurers invested in fossil fuels as climate risks to underwriting mount,” Reuters, August 8, 2023. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/sustainability/sustainable-finance-reporting/us-insurers-invested-fossil-fuels-climate-risks-underwriting-mount-report-2023-08-08/
⁴ Castillo, E., “These Colleges Have Divested from Fossil Fuels,” Best Colleges, September 19, 2023
⁵ Zonta, M., Issett, M., Ma, C., & Weber, O., “The Impact of Energy Investments on the Financial Value and the Carbon Footprint of Pension Funds,” School of Environment, Enterprise and Development, University of Waterloo, June, 26, 2023.