A Hamilton climate change action group is urging consumers and institutions to take their money out of Canada's big banks.
Hamilton 350 is joining 350.org and OurClimate.ca in declaring Nov. 5 Move Your Money Day. The campaign is aimed at universities and colleges, municipalities, religious organizations and individual investors and targets 200 oil, natural gas and coal companies.
Dante Ryel, a member of Hamilton 350, says the same tactic worked to undermine apartheid in South Africa.
But it's not just a moral stance but a sound economic argument too, said a group of Hamilton 350 representatives who spoke to The Spectator's editorial board Tuesday.
The World Bank, the International Panel on Climate Change and other investment groups have said there is more "carbon in the ground than we can afford to burn if we're going to survive," said member Dave Carson.
"But those assets are valued into the companies' stock prices. If they are stranded, that bubble would burst."
The International Energy Agency calculates that the fossil fuel industry will need to leave about 80 per cent of their reserves of coal, oil, and gas in the ground in order to meet targets set for global warming. It's estimated the reserves are worth about $20 trillion.
Consumers, communities and institutions should invest in credit unions, which are member-owned, invest in community development and don't directly invest in fossil fuel holdings, says Ryel.
About 40 schools, local governments and churches have committed to divesting from oil, gas and coal in the United States, according to 350.org. They include Seattle, San Francisco. Portland, Ore., and Ann Arbor, Mich.
The impact could be huge if widely adopted. It's estimated the top 500 university endowments alone hold nearly $400 billion in investments.
Ryel, an energy systems engineering student at Mohawk College, says he has reached out to Mohawk, McMaster and the City of Hamilton to talk about bank divestment. Ryel says his calls and emails aren't returned.
"I think the biggest roadblock is Canada's culture. The influence of the fossil fuel industry has on every single aspect of Canadian culture is incredible."
The Move Your Money Day campaign began in the United States out of the Occupy movement and resentment over the bailout of big banks.
There are ethical and green investment funds but Ryel says so far there isn't one that filters out fossil fuel companies.
350.org says giant oil, gas and coal are profiting while environmental damage climbs.
"If it is wrong to wreck the climate, then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage," has become a mantra.
The 350 in the organization's name refers to the measurement of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in parts per million. Leading climate scientists have determined that 350 parts per million is a safe level for the earth. But each year, the needle climbs a little so that it sits at about 390 ppm today.
That will mean rising temperatures and sea levels, increased frequency of extreme weather and famine and drought, local 350 members warn.
"We believe climate change is not an issue, it's the issue," said Carson. He accused a number of institutes funded by big oil companies of disregarding the science of climate change and spreading misinformation.
"The International Panel on Climate Change determined that it is 95 per cent certain that climate change is happening and that it's caused by human activities," echoed Ryel.
"That's the same level of certainty that cigarettes are bad for human health."