Expert View: Campaigning - Investment with a conscience

The current meltdown of the money markets reminds me of another, slow-burning crisis that is becoming more apparent every day.

Last month, while headline writers were preoccupied with Wall Street, a jury in Maidstone acquitted six Greenpeace activists of all charges. The activists had broken into and damaged a power station to draw attention to the huge risks of building more coal-fired power stations. Their message to the Government was simple: when you're in a hole, stop digging.

When a government shows no sign of listening, organisations such as Greenpeace are prepared to take direct action. It's a high-risk approach, and it landed the organisation in court. Greenpeace did not deny its actions; instead, it justified them by pointing to the greater damage that would be caused to the world's climate if more coal-fired power stations were built. It brought a leading scientist to the court to explain why building more coal-fired power stations would contribute to catastrophic climate change. After hearing his evidence, the jury ruled that Greenpeace was justified in doing what it did. I am deeply thankful to those jurors, and deeply thankful, too, to Greenpeace - for taking a risk that most charities would not be prepared to take.

What's all this got to do with irresponsible lending practices? Well, the 'spivs and speculators' who devised and exploited a system that made fantastic profits for a few but came close to bringing down our whole economy are also financing investments in coal-fired power stations, strip-mining and tar sands exploitation. Not content with causing global financial chaos, they also threaten to cause global climate chaos with their investments.

Most charities are not able to take the risks that Greenpeace did to highlight the folly of such investments, but they can think carefully about who they bank with and where they are investing their assets. If they continue to invest in banks and funds that offer short-term profits but life-threatening consequences, they are effectively putting their money into sub-prime mortgages. We know that such investments will cause huge problems, but because everyone else is doing it we close our eyes to the consequences.

We might not all be prepared to climb a cooling tower, but all charities can ensure their investments do not contribute to climate chaos. They can use their influence, contacts and reputations to persuade the financiers of climate-polluting investments to stop investing in projects that we know will cause climate meltdown.

 - Ian Leggett is director of People & Planet

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