an open letter (honestly open) to those who would not divest from fossil fuels

I am not a lobbyist; I have no power except my ability to put words together – and in a world where even online visibility is lobbied to a certain (great) extent, my words, too, lose their power.

But I must for my children’s sake – and for the sake of their children, if children they ever choose and are able to have – say something today.

I have signed the Guardian‘s #keepitintheground campaign: 180,000 people like me have done so as well.  All we want is for the fossil-fuel companies to go beyond petroleum; for them to use science for the benefit of us all – not to lock it away in corporate boxes that refuse to share knowledge which has been expensively but potentially productively gained:

Greenpeace said it was time that BP handed over all the research it had gained from its decades of work. “By keeping this wealth of research under lock and key BP is putting narrow corporate interests before humanity’s hopes to tackle one of its greatest challenges, said a spokesman.

It is difficult for me to understand how we have got here.  It is not only the fossil-fuels industry which is “putting narrow corporate interests before humanity’s hopes” of tackling big challenges which affect us all.  But the fossil-fuels industry is big enough and grand enough to give the kind of lead which others follow out of cowardice: a cowardice of thought; a cowardice of mind; a cowardice of will; a cowardice of the intellectually and morally blind:

I, as a normal and fairly powerless citizen, do not have the resources to get my voice regularly heard in the kind of unmediated, professionalised and structured way which those who own the lobbying networks of business & politics are accustomed to levering.

I, as a normal and – now – fairly sad father and husband, do not have the intelligence or the connections to be able to be more than a tiny unheard, ignored point on your “spectrum of views”:

When you, and organisations like yourself, headline your response with …

Director’s Update: Fossil fuel investments are a complex issue on which fair-minded people will disagree

… in truth you are really arguing …

Big Boss’s Instruction: Renewable energy investments are simply a daft issue which only the unreasonable agree with

Or will my quiet desperation for my children’s future allow you to believe I am as unreasonable as you believe focussed opposition to fossil fuels makes everyone who opposes?

Then let me tell you a little about myself:

  • I was born in Oxford, England, of British-Croatian parents.
  • My father has been a lifelong scientist: a physics, maths and IT teacher – who grew up in a world of scientific progress, advancement and belief in human beings’ power to do good.
  • My mother has been a lifelong anti-Communist Catholic – who grew up in a world of surveillance, political oppression and state violence.
  • Both have now made peace with their life experiences, as indeed to a great degree I have made with mine.
  • We all use technology with interest, engagement, curiosity, enthusiasm even on occasions – but also with a growing distrust.
  • We see evidence of truths being told that aren’t; of a marketing which from the beginning of communication process to its end serves to replace the honest spontaneity of truth-telling.
  • Whilst my mother taught me to tell the truth because of her faith and religion, my father taught me to tell the truth because of his science and his strong belief that the world was there to be rationally understood.
  • From two perspectives, then, we reach a common conclusion.
  • And in my life, then, holding more than one idea in my mind at the same time is not an alien concept.

Now about yourselves.

You argue (the bold is mine):

When we do choose to invest or stay invested (as we have done with 4 of the 200 companies on the campaign’s target list), we then engage actively as shareholders. We use our access to company boards to press for more transparent and sustainable policies that support transition towards a low-carbon economy. We apply this approach both to companies that produce and consume fossil fuels: demand is as important as supply.

We have been asked for evidence of how our engagement has made a difference. This is not as straightforward as it sounds because most of the discussions we have as investors are confidential: we could not expect frankness or access to commercially sensitive information were we to publish details.

It is also rare for discussions with a single shareholder to lead directly and immediately to a clear outcome: our influence works over time, and most powerfully when boards hear similar messages from many shareholders. Divestment would remove a strong voice that takes climate seriously from these coalitions of persuasion, with no likelihood that those to whom we sell our shares would engage the same way. It would not only end our own influence with these companies, but also undermine the influence of other investors who share our views.

It is, sadly, clear what all the above means.  I shall be frank; and perhaps my frankness, born of my quiet desperation for my children and their children, will allow you to reject my opinions.

Even so, it is no longer time to smile.

There is little to smile about on this matter any more.

We are talking about a world in the hands of shareholders, not voters.  We are talking about corporate boards who only care to listen to those prepared to buy access.  We are talking about a world where the grand of society have the right to determine the mode of discourse; where the big can measure time into parcels of action the rest of us must accept; where the perishable goods, which all of us humans are, must be allowed to perish whilst the powerful make up their minds.

Or not, as the case may be.

Or perhaps, as the case may be, give the impression they need time to make up their minds – even as their minds are already, long ago, quite made up.

You will reject me as a man who is unreasonable and simple.

I see you, meanwhile, as a man who speaks with the tongue of those who prefer to salve consciences, not wounds.

And all this time, I promise you that I’m just as desperately trying to keep my emotions in check, because I know as with the wife who finds herself at the end of a fist, she (or he) who raises their voice out of fear will have their message perfectly ignored – and, instead, be judged foolish for speaking not only too loud but also far too out-of-turn.

This is no longer where we find ourselves though.

This is not the time for polite English teatime conversations: the ones where Father speaks and whilst he does, everyone else is duly – fair-mindedly – silent.

We do live in the multi-polar, multi-velocity world described accurately enough in the Wellcome Trust’s response.  But an element which Wellcome, Bill & Melinda Gates and so many others forget – in their undoubtedly grand philanthropy – is that the connected environment a 21st century brings, a 21st century I am sure both organisations aim to bring about, also includes, implies and requires a set of democratic structures which secret and sensitive access by wealthy shareholders to boards of privilege – as levers of action for a future societal benefit it is true, but in their own privileged time all the same – just as simply and unreasonably doesn’t deliver the world we’re striving after.

It’s time that this extra-parliamentary action which you believe is only one tiny point on a “spectrum of fair-minded views” became the tool that the quietly desperate deserve to employ in order that the future of our planet be democratised.

The quietly desperate who don’t have the millions and billions of resources the professionalised lobbyists use to market their undoubted interests; the quietly desperate who see just as much value in 180,000 people as they do in $180,000.

You may find it harder, now, as I gently attack your democratic integrity, to agree with my point of view on fossil fuels – but equally, as I hope you can also juggle this second idea simultaneously in your fair-minded complexities, less democracy in a society we trust to be liberal can hardly be the solution to more conflict.

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