“In 20 years, all of us will be asked a question: What did you do to fight climate change?”
-World Bank President, Jim Young Kim
In March 2015 The Guardian newspaper launched an unprecedented campaign calling on the Gates Foundation to divest from fossil fuels. Their petition, signed by over 235,000 people, stated: “The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has made a huge contribution to human progress (…) yet their investments in fossil fuels are putting much of that progress at risk. It is morally and financially misguided to invest in companies dedicated to finding and burning more oil, gas and coal.”
Later that year, here in Seattle, the hometown of Bill and Melinda Gates, we took the momentum of The Guardian’s divestment call and ran with it.
Between September 9th and the beginning of the COP21 climate summit in Paris on November 30th, Gates Divest had volunteers outside of the Gates Foundation virtually every single day they were open, bringing the public’s attention to the chasm that exists between the Foundation’s values and their financial investments.
We marched on the Foundation with a choir, we brought school groups, musicians and City Council members to the Foundation in support of our cause. We took almost 50 kayaks to the shores of the Gates’ mansion to get our message across. We generated local, national and international mediaattention with our efforts.
Furthermore, we galvanized the support of 68 WA-based faith leaders, 74 WA-based organizations, 10 of the 18 candidates for the Seattle City Council elections and, with the help of global health charities Medact and Physicians for Social Responsibility, we gained the support of over 1,000 health professionals from around the world.
Towards the end of our campaign, The Seattle Times ran a front page story that The Gates Foundation had divested nearly $1 billion from fossil fuel companies. Their divestment was met with no announcement though, no commitment to continuing divesting and at the time of writing the Gates Foundation continues to have over $475 million invested in fossil fuel companies that fight and oppose action on climate change.
On November 30th 2015, the opening day of the Paris climate talks, we organized a press conference, in which local leaders including City Council member Nick Licata, Reverend Jenny Phillips and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility president, Dr. Bruce Amundson, spoke out on behalf of Gates Divest’s call to the Foundation and delivered our various letters and petitions to the Gates Foundation.
This event was covered by King 5, KUOW, KPLU, The Stranger, The Seattle Weekly and more.
On this same day as our call to the Gates Foundation to provide much needed moral leadership on climate change reached its crescendo, Bill Gates announced to the world the Breakthrough Energy Coalition: a group of tycoons committed to massive investment in clean energy research and development.
And while Gates Divest salutes this development, we continue to contest that investment is only one half of the solution. With fossil fuel companies already owning 5x more carbon that can be burned, and continuing to spend 100s of billions of dollars looking for more oil, coal and gas, we must also limit the power of the fossil fuel industry that had fought climate action for decades – and the most powerful means to do that is divestment.