Let’s make Earth Day count

“Make no mistake – the climate crisis is already here.”

By Cecile Wilson

This year, Earth Day is on April 22. At the first Earth Day in 1970, the goal was to raise awareness of the connection between environmental health and human health. People took to the streets to protest against what Earth Day organizers called the “impacts of 150 years of industrial development which had left a growing legacy of serious human health impacts.” The average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere – the main driver of climate destabilization –was 325.68 parts per million (ppm) that year.

Where are we today?

More than 50 years later, people are still facing serious human health impacts. The courageous and persistent work of Indigenous, Black and Brown activists has been a helpful lesson for us in more privileged circumstances. Their activism has highlighted the disproportionate suffering that has been occurring in their communities for years due to proximity to extraction, manufacturing and disposal industries. With climate change, more floods, freezes, fires, storms, heat waves and drought are compounding their misery.

The concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide has not improved either. The mean atmospheric CO2 for the week of March 21 was 417.67 ppm, a huge increase since 1970 and well beyond any safe limit.

In Canada, more than a quarter of our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from the oil and gas sector. According to federal government figures, the increase in total emissions between 1990 and 2018 was “mostly due to an 82-per-cent (87 megatons CO2 equivalent) increase in emissions in the oil and gas sector.”

Make no mistake – the climate crisis is already here.

Bank Street bridge once again has a separate bike and pedestrian lane. Vehicles have a single lane each way.   Photo: Liz McKeen

Banking on climate chaos

While much attention has been focused on reducing our personal carbon footprints as a remedy for mitigating climate catastrophe, the carbon footprints of banks and pension and investment funds are larger by orders of magnitude.

According to a 2018 blog post for Co-Power by David Berliner, a million-dollar portfolio invested in an S&P/TSX composite index fund generates about 85.4 tonnes of carbon emissions each year. That’s a lot. In fact, if you have any money at all in standard investments, that probably accounts for the biggest portion of your carbon output. Imagine the emissions coming from investments that are thousands of times larger.

The Banking on Climate Chaos 2021 Report released on March 24 provides data on the contributions Canada’s Big Five banks (Bank of Montreal, CIBC, RBC, Scotiabank and TD) have made to the fossil-fuel industry since Canada signed the Paris Agreement in late 2015. Together, the banks supplied financial support totaling more than $588 billion USD (more than $740 billion CAD) between 2016 and 2020.

If the banks use their money to support a similar mix of companies that are on the S&P/TSX index, we could expect their investments to generate about 50,236,550 tonnes of CO2 a year.

Make Earth Day count

This year, Climate Pledge Collective is asking people to pledge to move their accounts from the Big Five banks to more sustainable financial institutions in 2022 if these banks don’t adopt clear, effective and timely policies to begin divesting from fossil fuels. At the same time, money needs to be directed towards programs that support fossil-fuel workers as they transition to more sustainable, less damaging industries.

The International Panel on Climate Change announced in 2018 that we had 12 years to take the necessary action to avoid the worst of climate change. We are now down to 10 years. We need to reduce our carbon emissions by at least 60 per cent by 2030 and banks have a major role to play to make sure we meet this target. Let them know that this matters to you.

If you are unsure how to proceed, check out the websites of Below 2 C/Fire Your Fossil Bank, Climate Pledge Collective, quit.RBC and RBCrevealed, for instructions on how to divest from fossil fuel banks. To keep up to date, follow BankTrack, Below2C, Climate Pledge Collective, Extinction Rebellion Ottawa, For Our Kids, Fridays For Future, Grandmothers Act to Save the Planet (GASP), Greenpeace Canada, Lead Now, Ottawa 350, quit.RBC/lacheRBC and Toronto 350.

This Earth Day, say: “Fossil banks? No thanks!”

Cecile Wilson has lived in the Glebe for almost 20 years.

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