Comment: Protect our kids, shift your money into Earth-friendly investments

A commentary by the co-ordinator of For Our Kids, a network of parents and grandparents taking action on climate change. See the website forourkids.ca

As parents and grandparents we would literally put our lives on the line to protect our kids or grandkids. Show me a child in a burning building and I’ll show you a mom or a dad fighting to get in there to save them, no matter what the cost.

Many of us are becoming aware that climate change is a slow-moving building fire, with our kids trapped inside with us, since there’s no choice to escape our burning planet. Part of parenting has become using our voice and our vote to demand more action, to tell politicians to put the fire out, even as some of them seek to throw on more gasoline.

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There’s something additional we can do. The old saying “money makes the world go round,” can be updated to “money makes the world get hot.” A big part of why we haven’t yet stopped runaway climate change is that we continue to invest in it, even those of us who are worried about what’s in store for our children.

Odds are, if you are putting any of your RRSP or RESP into the market and you haven’t specified otherwise, you are helping to finance more fossil fuel production. We want to save for our retirement or our kids’ future, but in so doing are putting that future more at risk.

Measurement of the carbon impact of our investment portfolios is getting better. One firm estimates that the average $100,000 portfolio has a bigger annual carbon impact than eating meat, driving a car, and taking a round-trip flight.

The good news is it’s easier than ever to move your savings into more responsible investments that still meet your financial goals. You can go into most financial institutions and tell them what your values are and have them match those to the right investment, including those that screen out fossil fuels.

The usual worry is that such investments don’t make money, but there’s enough experience with them that financial advisers can show you the performance over a decade and demonstrate they can meet or beat the overall market.

More legitimate worries may centre on whether there’s some greenwashing involved or whether the financial institution — in particular the big banks — might also be putting billions into fossil fuels in other parts of their operations. It’s better to deal with a certified Responsible Investment Adviser and to deal with credit unions and independent financial firms.

In addition to screening out the bad stuff, whether fossil fuels or other “sin” stocks such as arms or cigarettes, another approach is to invest in the world we want.

Some funds are set up, for example, to invest in clean energy. Other funds stay with companies that need to change, and use their voice as investors to press for it.

There’s also investing directly in a single company that aligns with your values, or might be disrupting the status quo in a good way. World Tree is a company with staff on Vancouver Island working on agroforestry projects around North and Latin America that produce high-quality lumber while sequestering carbon and providing jobs to farmers who may not otherwise have them. People can invest directly in what is a higher risk but higher potential reward arrangement.

A huge opportunity is the discrepancy between those who are concerned about climate change and those who have taken action to move their savings. An Ipsos Reid poll last year found that 81 per cent of individual investors are concerned about climate change, and 70 per cent thought climate would negatively impact returns for some companies over the next five years.

Yet, according to socially responsible investor advisers, the percentage of people who have acted on those concerns is still in the single digits. As parents and grandparents, in addition to getting involved politically, one of the best things we can do for our kids and grandkids is to shift our savings and encourage others to do the same.

For Our Grandkids Victoria and the B.C. Sustainable Energy Association will host a free public forum on Thursday, with socially responsible investment experts Stephen Whipp and Craig MacDougall as well as Rita Fromholt from World Tree.

It will be at 7 p.m. at the Oaks Restaurant and Tearoom on Oak Bay Avenue. Space is limited. Find tickets on Eventbrite under the title “Green It Or Lose It.”

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