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The international campaign to divest from the Top 200 fossil fuels continues to make waves across the globe. A summary of recent news is below. The campaign has already spread to over 400 colleges, cities, and religious institutions in the United States and is growing quickly in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and across Europe, where the Fossil Free Europe tour just concluded. Follow the campaign at gofossilfree.org.
Generation Foundation report warns of stranded carbon assets
On October 30, The Generation Foundation released a report on investor risk from stranded carbon assets and how this risk should be incorporated into investment analyses. Al Gore and London based asset manager David Blood described the report's findings and compared the carbon bubble to the housing bubble in a Wall Street Journal op-ed: "That is exactly what is happening with the subprime carbon asset bubble: It is still growing because most market participants are mistakenly treating carbon risk as an uncertainty, and are thus failing to incorporate it in investment analyses. By overlooking a known material-risk factor, investors are exposing their portfolios to an externality that should be integrated into the capital allocation process."
Oxford study on growing fossil fuel divestment campaign says it's experiencing the fastest growth in recent times
On October 7, the University of Oxford released a new report that found that the fossil fuel divestment campaign is growing faster than any previous divestment effort. "Stigmatisation poses a far-reaching threat to fossil fuel companies - any direct impacts of divestment pale in comparison," said Ben Caldecott, a research fellow at the University of Oxford's Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, and an author of the report. "In every case we reviewed, divestment campaigns were successful in lobbying for restrictive legislation."
Boxtel, Netherlands becomes 1st municipality in Europe to divest
On November 1, the Dutch town of Boxtel announced that it will become the first municipality in Europe to divest from fossil fuels companies. This follows its decision to ban fracking in August. Boxtel also announced that it will hold a conference in December to urge other cities to drop their holdings in fossil fuels companies.
Quakers in Britain announce intention to divest
On October 8th, Quakers in Britain announced that investing in companies which are engaged in fossil fuel extraction is "incompatible with their commitment made in 2011 to become a sustainable low-carbon community." The move means that Quakers will drop their investments in Statoil and BG Group.
Norway's $800bn Sovereign Wealth Fund moves toward coal divestment
Norway's $800bn Sovereign Wealth Fund (NBIM) is likely to divest from coal assets, with support from the Labor party. The questions now appear to be if the fund will also divest from coal mining and from utilities that use coal generated power. More information is here.
Naropa College in Colorado and Foothill-De Anza Community College in California divest
On October 31, Naropa's board of trustees voted to divest, concluding that it "would not threaten the stability of their stock portfolio, and that continuing to practice shareholder activism involving those companies would not result in significant changes in behavior."
On October 23, De Anza Community College became for the first community college in the U.S to divest. A full list of divestment commitments can be found here.
Brown University announces it won't divest from coal
It's still an open question which school will be the first Ivy to divest. On Oct. 27, Brown President Christina Paxson wrote an email to students informing them that the Brown Corporation, responsible for managing Brown's $3 billion endowment, would not divest from major coal companies. "The existence of social harm is a necessary but not sufficient rationale for Brown to divest," Paxson wrote. The response from Brown Divestment from Coal is here.
350.org and partners launch personal divestment guide
As grassroots divestment campaigns take hold of institutions across the country, many individuals are taking matters into their own hands and choosing to divest their personal finances from fossil fuels. 350.org and partners have published a website that helps to guide individuals throught the process of personally divesting their investments from fossil fuels, which will help to protect them againstrisks from the carbon bubble.
350 is building a future that's just, prosperous, equitable and safe from the effects of the climate crisis. We're an international movement of ordinary people working to end the age of fossil fuels and build a world of community-led renewable energy for all.
"We should not have to risk arrest and imprisonment for exercising our constitutional rights, including freedom of speech and equal protection under the law," asserted one of the plaintiffs.
Progressive advocacy groups are suing Mississippi officials over a new state law requiring permission to hold public protests near state government buildings in the capital city of Jackson.
A lawsuit filed last week by JXN Undivided Coalition, Mississippi Votes, Mississippi Poor People's Campaign, Black Voters Matter, and a trio of activists challenges S.B. 2343, which is set to take effect on July 1. The legislation required prior approval from Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell or Capitol Police Chief Bo Luckey for public demonstrations on the grounds of or near state government buildings including the Capitol Complex, Governor's Mansion, state Supreme Court, and other edifices.
"The JXN Undivided Coalition and its members have for years engaged in the deeply American tradition of peacefully gathering on public property to convey to elected officials what matters most to us," the group said in a statement on Monday. "What matters most to us is the right to vote and the right of political self-determination for Jackson residents."
"We have spoken, and the state has responded with a sweeping prohibition of speech next to properties in Jackson occupied by state officials absent prior authorization," JXN Undivided Coalition added. "We should not have to risk arrest and imprisonment for exercising our constitutional rights, including freedom of speech and equal protection under the law."
\u201c.@JxnUndivided files lawsuit to stop new law requiring the Public Safety Commissioner or Capitol Police Chief\u2019s permission to protest or gather in Jackson anywhere near buildings occupied by a state employee \u2014 aka damn near all of non-residential Jackson. https://t.co/ISwW2dakw1\u201d— Blake Feldman (@Blake Feldman) 1685977958
According to the suit:
This year, Mississippi made peaceful protests on public sidewalks and streets next to state government buildings in Jackson without written prior permission from one of two state officials. The new law... is an unconstitutional prior restraint that does not further a constitutionally sufficient or permissible purpose. Those who peacefully protest without state government authorization and who are charged with crimes for doing so may be prosecuted and sentenced to prison. This chills protected speech.
As the Associated Pressreported Monday:
Critics say the majority-white and Republican-controlled Legislature passed the laws to take away local autonomy in Jackson and surrounding Hinds County, which are both majority-Black and governed by Democrats. Supporters of the laws say they are trying to control violent crime.
Several protests have been held near state government buildings in downtown Jackson during the past year, including some in January, February, and March against the legislation dealing with courts and policing. The Poor People's Campaign held events on a street outside the Governor's Mansion last fall to protest what organizers said was the state’s inadequate investment in Jackson's struggling water system.
In recent years, numerous states have passed laws criminalizing or restricting protest activity and protecting motorists who kill or injure protesters under certain circumstances.
"Mr. Musk's behavior reveals an apparent indifference towards Twitter's longstanding legal obligations, which did not disappear when Mr. Musk took over the company," says a new letter from Sen. Elizabeth Warren and three of her Democratic colleagues.
Four Democratic U.S. senators have asked Twitter CEO Elon Musk and CEO-Designate Linda Yaccarino to provide information about the social media corporation's "continued disregard for consumer safety" by June 18, the lawmakers announced Monday.
In a letter dated Friday, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Ed Markey (Mass.), and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) expressed their concerns that since Musk purchased and assumed control of Twitter in October 2022, the company may have "violated its consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and put consumer privacy and data security at risk."
The letter follows last week's back-to-back resignations of Twitter's former head of trust and safety, Ella Irwin, and its former head of brand safety and advertising quality, A.J. Brown.
"Regardless of his personal wealth, Mr. Musk is not exempt from the law, and neither is the company he purchased."
"These departures, following a string of high-profile resignations from Twitter's lead privacy, information security, and compliance officers, raise concerns about Twitter's ability to comply with its legal obligations," the lawmakers wrote. "Twitter had a poor track record of protecting consumer privacy even before Mr. Musk's takeover."
As FTC spokesperson Douglas Farrar explained earlier this year, Twitter in 2011 "agreed to a 20-year consent order over its data security practices and how it uses your private information."
In May 2022, several months before Musk's acquisition of the company was finalized, "the FTC charged Twitter with violating the 2011 order for misusing personal information," Farrar noted. Twitter then "paid a $150 million penalty and entered a new consent order," which "added further provisions to protect consumers' sensitive data."
But as the four Senate Democrats pointed out in their new letter, Musk has "made numerous hasty personnel and product decisions" since he took over Twitter last October, heightening concerns about the company's adherence to the updated FTC agreement.
The resignations and terminations began well before the exits of Irwin and Brown last week, as the quartet observed:
In November 2022, Mr. Musk fired multiple top executives; top security executives resigned; and Mr. Musk fired employees who had criticized him, let go of contractors, and laid off half of the workforce. On November 9, the day before the deadline to submit a report to the FTC, the chief privacy officer, chief information security officer, and chief compliance officer all resigned. Internal messages obtained by The New York Times show that an employee suggested internal privacy reviews of Twitter's products were not occurring as they should under the order. Reports also indicated that the launch of the updated Twitter Blue subscription service "disregarded the company's normal privacy and security review." In April of this year, Mr. Musk also confirmed that over 80% of the workforce had left Twitter since he became CEO.
"These personnel changes, firsthand accounts from employees, and hasty launch of new products raise questions about whether Twitter is able to comply with its obligations under the FTC consent decree," the lawmakers wrote. "In apparent dismissal of concerns regarding reducing his workforce, Mr. Musk's team has said he is 'used to going to court and paying penalties, and was not worried about the risks.'"
"Mr. Musk's behavior reveals an apparent indifference towards Twitter's longstanding legal obligations, which did not disappear when Mr. Musk took over the company," they continued. "One employee highlighted his problematic behavior, stating, 'Elon has shown that his only priority with Twitter users is how to monetize them,' and his personal lawyer Alex Spiro reportedly said, 'Elon puts rockets into space—he's not afraid of the FTC.'"
As a matter of fact, Musk's Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket exploded before reaching space in April, coating a Texas community in ash and provoking fears of negative public health and environmental impacts.
The senators stressed that "regardless of his personal wealth, Mr. Musk is not exempt from the law, and neither is the company he purchased."
"Twitter must meet the requirements it agreed to under the 2011 and 2022 FTC agreements," they added. "If reports about Mr. Musk's actions are correct, it appears that the company may not be doing so."
Citing their concerns, the lawmakers asked Musk and Yaccarino to answer a series of questions about Twitter's privacy practices no later than June 18.
"In particular, the letter asks whether Twitter conducted a privacy and security assessment of Twitter Blue, its paid subscription service, before rolling it out earlier this year," CNNreported Monday. "Under its 2022 consent agreement, Twitter is required to perform such assessments 'prior to implementing any new or modified product.'"
"The letter also asks whether Twitter has maintained a comprehensive cybersecurity program to protect user data since Musk's takeover and whether Twitter has met various reporting requirements, including obligations to report any significant data breaches to the authorities," CNN noted. According to the outlet, the inquiry "could highlight vast legal risks for Twitter and potentially for Musk himself."
The former Republican president's repeated promotion of his properties to the media and other world leaders amounted to "diplomatic malpractice," one ethics official said.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump, who is now running for a second term in the 2024 election, made $82.5 million from his businesses in Ireland and Scotland during his presidency as he embroiled himself in what one watchdog group called "extraordinary conflicts of interest" stemming from his frequent trips to his properties in the two countries while he was in office.
As Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) reported on Monday, Trump repeatedly promoted his properties to the media and other officials as well as charging U.S. government employees to stay there.
Trump stayed at his Doonbeg golf property in Ireland and his Turnberry and Aberdeen golf resorts in Scotland numerous times, in some cases taking detours to stay there while claiming he did so out of "convenience."
\u201cNEW: Donald Trump made $82.5 million from his businesses in the UK and Ireland while serving as President, a @CREWcrew analysis of his tax returns revealed. That created conflicts of interest and reflected use of the presidency to promote his properties.\nhttps://t.co/DGVZiuyo7J\u201d— Noah Bookbinder (@Noah Bookbinder) 1685974512
The president made those trips after making the unprecedented decision not to divest from his real estate empire, the Trump Organization, CREW noted.
That decision led "to four years of egregious conflicts of interest between his business and the government," said CREW in its new report, with some of the worst arising "around his Doonbeg golf course in Ireland, where he made almost $25 million, and his Turnberry and Aberdeen golf properties in Scotland, which helped him make more than $58 million."
While in Europe for a NATO summit and a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Trump went out of his way to spent two nights at Turnberry, later charging his own Secret Service officers $1,300.
A Freedom of Information Act request showed that during former Vice President Mike Pence's 2019 stay at Doonbeg—which was encouraged by Trump, according to Pence's chief of staff—the resort charged the Secret Service more than $15,000.
The then-president and members of his administration mentioned Turnberry, Doonbeg, and Aberdeen at least 50 times during Trump's four years in office, with Trump referring to Turnberry as "magical" at the NATO summit in 2018 and talking to local officials in Ireland about Doonbeg's impact on the economy in 2019.
He reportedly "boasted" about Turnberry frequently in conversations with former U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, and pushed the U.S. ambassador to Britain, Robert Wood Johnson IV, to lobby for the British Open golf tournament to be held at the resort.
At the time of the latter incident in 2020, Norman Eisen, former special counsel for ethics for President Barack Obama, called Trump's actions "diplomatic malpractice."