Why I Bought Shares in BP and Shell to Save the Planet

Climate change is already hitting the most vulnerable communities first and hardest with extreme weather events, rising sea levels and food shortages. At the same time, fossil fuel companies in their ivory towers keep ordering more drilling.

Our unhealthy addiction to fossil fuels will destroy life as we know it. There's no doubt about it.

Climate change is already hitting the most vulnerable communities first and hardest with extreme weather events, rising sea levels and food shortages. At the same time, fossil fuel companies in their ivory towers keep ordering more drilling. They're even plotting exploration for more oil and gas reserves that we know we can't burn if we want any chance of avoiding 'dangerous and unmanageable climate change' (and that's the World Bank talking).

Across the world, millions of citizens are demanding divestment from fossil fuels at their universities, religious organisations and places of work. Institutions like these, with organisational missions to secure a better and more equal future, often have a significant chunk of their money invested in companies that profit from causing climate chaos.

One of the most common pushbacks to divestment is the argument that these investments represent a drop in the ocean in these oil corporations' bank accounts. I campaign for divestment because it removes the social legitimacy that these companies rely on to embed themselves in so many aspects of our lives (think Lego toys emblazoned with Shell logos). Calling for universities, art galleries and philanthropic organisations to divest from fossil fuels is not just about getting money out - it's about divesting our culture from the oily grip of fossil fuel giants.

But it's clear we've got a way to go to get large investors to recognise the need for their investments to tally with their organisational values. Last week, the Wellcome Trust rejected the Guardian's 141,000 signature-strong petition to divest from fossil fuels, claiming they could have more impact with a seat at the table. This misses the point of just how inappropriate it is that a leading health research charity continues to profit from an industry that is causing not just devastating climate impacts, leaving communities exposed to vicious outbreaks of disease, but a whole host of health problems from toxins and air pollution.

The Wellcome Trust's comments also pit stakeholder engagement and divestment as binary opposites. I prefer to see them as complementary - based on my own experience.

Last year, I bought one share each in BP and Shell. Yes, it felt weird. But buying those two single shares bought me the right to co-file a shareholder resolution at these oil giants, directing the companies to offer more disclosure about how they're factoring climate change into their plans. These resolutions have catapulted climate change onto the AGM agenda of two of the world's most carbon-intensive companies, and started a dialogue amongst investors about the need to acknowledge the risk that climate change presents about their financial choices more broadly.

It might seem contradictory to buy shares in companies whose business models I fundamentally disagree with. But this has let me agitate for change from within. An online campaign in support of the resolutions is gathering speed, and some large investors who hold millions of shares have already declared that they will vote in support of the resolutions. It's hard to believe that this has happened, in part, thanks to the single share I bought in each company.

As a shareholder I also have the right to attend the AGMs of both companies and hold their climate wrecking-activities to account. This means the tough questions won't stop for the delegates once they've walked past the anti-oil protesters at the entrance. They might try plugging their ears from the chants, but I'll be conveying the same messages on the inside.

BP's AGM is in just three weeks, on 16th April. For the resolutions on climate risk to actually pass, 75% of shareholders must vote in favour of them. The pressure on investors to support our resolutions is growing. Many of the UK's largest pension funds hold large shares in both companies, and members of the public can email their pension fund to let them know they'd like them to support these resolutions. The investment industry, which is supposed to be able to identify big future risks, has an opportunity to show it recognises climate change, and is taking action to limit its entanglement with forces driving it.

We can't give up when our calls for divestment are rejected. We should multiply our tactics. No one said a fundamental change to our global economy would be easy. Why would I limit the ways I can disrupt the activity of fossil fuel companies, when they're so bent on disrupting my future?

You can support the petition here and email your pension fund here.

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