What One Person Can Do About Climate Change | Ella Lagé | TEDxHamburg

Translator: Alena Koroleva
Reviewer: Zsuzsa Viola OK, so I have to make a confession. Every time I rehearsed this speech, I got to the point
where I almost started crying. What I want to talk with you about
moves me a lot. And what moves me is the beauty and the power
of people like you and me standing up together to solve a problem
that seems impossible to tackle. This is me a couple of years ago. I was deeply unsettled
and overwhelmed by global warming. I knew it was there, but it seemed
very far away and abstract. And at the same time,
I was closely surrounded by its cause: our global economic system that is based on digging out
and burning fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – which holds responsible for two thirds
of our global carbon emissions. Now, living a normal life in Germany, I was part of the system every day, from my consumption to the food I eat,
the travel, like in the picture, the waste I produce. In fact, I felt that I was
so much involved in it that I didn’t even have
the right to oppose it. I was global warming in a way. And no matter what I would do
to reduce my personal consumption, it would never be enough
to solve the problem. I felt helpless when I thought of it, and so for a long time,
I preferred not to think of it too much. I’m sure you are aware that global warming
is an increasingly urgent topic. It’s proceeding much more rapidly
then expected just now, and although we have no time to lose, our political leaders don’t seem
to take the necessary steps to break free from those fossil fuels. Although there are some
pretty good options on the table like introducing carbon taxes, ending subsidies
in the fossil fuel industry – that are really high,
especially in Germany – or an obligatory carbon footprint label
on all the products that we buy so we actually have a choice and we foster competition among companies
to reduce their emissions. We get none of this. And this is even more confusing
and unsettling to me. And I kept asking myself, “Is there anything I as an individual
can do to open the door to change?” Well, I found there is. Two years ago, I signed
a petition at 350.org. It’s a US based NGO fighting climate change
by building a grassroots movement. And this movement really excited me. I saw people taking
creative public action. They were many,
they were doing it together, and they didn’t at all seem sad
or desperate or aggressive. They looked like they had a lot of fun. And I fell in love with that movement. Now, I have children and I have a job – I’m a service design strategist – but at this point, I didn’t at all think about how
I would be able to come up with the time to put some effort into this. I just knew I wanted to be part of it. I wanted to end my paralysis. On the map of 350.org,
I found Fossil Free Berlin, which is the local campaign
in the town where I live. It’s a city actually. When I got to meet these beautiful people, I learned that their goal was to get the city of Berlin to divest
its capital reserves from fossil fuels. Just like you might be right now,
I was asking myself, What is this ‘divestment’? I had no idea. But by now, I’ve found out
three quite amazing things about it that I want to share with you. Number one: Divestment is to pull out our money
from the fossil fuel industry. It’s basically the opposite
of an investment because the investments that we have are being withdrawn from companies
that dig out or burn fossil fuels. Those are companies like Shell, NVE,
BP, ExxonMobil, Total – you get the picture. It’s basically a boycott, simple as that. Now you may say, “That sounds like a good idea, but I don’t even own shares
in these companies.” I also thought that I didn’t, and then I had to found out that I did. Not because I ever took that decision
and thought it was a really good idea, but because the ones
who received my money did: public administration, my bank, my insurances, my pension fund. No matter who I give my money to, some of it goes
to the fossil fuel industry, in the form of loans, shares,
project finance, bonds. Today there is almost no exception. Now, I realized
this makes me a stakeholder, and as a stakeholder I can interfere. I can tell them that I don’t want this. Chances are better
if I don’t do it on my own but together with other people
who are in the same position. And this is how
the divestment movement works: individuals get together and ask their institutions
to divest from fossil fuels. It’s something very simple
and obvious we are asking for. It’s to divest from those companies that are at the root of the system
that we need to change. And it’s usually not that much; it’s just between five and ten percent
of all investments that needs to be moved. It’s a totally realistic goal,
and we can reach it. So, now you may say, “Well, if it’s not that much money, who cares?” And even worse, “If these institutions divest somebody else is going to buy
their shares, right?” It’s true. The fossil fuel industry is very big, and there will always be
investors who don’t care. So, will the fossil fuel industry
even take any notice of what’s going on? How can divestment
actually change anything? Well, this brings us to the second thing
that I learned about divestment. It’s not about money. But it can cause something else; it can cause moral bankruptcy. And you can see an example
of moral bankruptcy if you look at the end
of the South African apartheid regime. In the 80’s, students in the US succeeded in asking their universities
to divest from companies that were doing business
with the South African apartheid regime. And those universities divesting and talking in public
about why they had done so led to other institutions following: faith organizations, unions,
cities, investment funds. It spread like a virus. And this public dissociation was,
according to Nelson Mandela, a crucial factor in ending apartheid. And Willem de Klerk, the last president
of the apartheid regime, can be quoted: “When the divestment movement began,
I knew that apartheid had to end.” [F.W. de Klerk, last president
of the apartheid regime] This is a political leader acknowledging that once people are ready
to move their money in order to make a moral statement, they will have their way. Think about the power that gives to us. And there is yet a third thing
I came to understand about divestment: it’s a precondition for change. Remember I said earlier that we don’t see
the necessary political steps? Well, here is why. We as a society currently depend on the profits
of the fossil fuel industry. Because we invested in them everywhere. Our wellbeing depends
on their dirty business. Currently, as it is, if they fall,
we lose our money. On the other hand, we know if they remain profitable,
the planet will be boiled. Which one is worse? We need to understand that ending this dependency
is a precondition for taking the necessary steps
to stop global warming, for rebuilding our economy and changing it into one
that is based on renewables. Divestment is not going to solve
all the problems immediately, but it’s the first necessary step
towards solving them. And the virus is spreading. This is what this powerful
and wonderful movement has been achieving in the past 18 months; all of these institutions
have decided to divest. It’s started with a lot of
universities in the US, Yale being the latest example. Then there was the Norwegian
Sovereign Wealth Fund. They decided to divest
their 900 billion portfolio last year. There were over 60 cities,
such as Seattle, Oslo, Copenhagen and Munster, being the first German city,
to take that decision last year, where responsibles said, “It was surprisingly easy
and quickly done.” And then other huge institutions followed: The Rockefeller Foundation,
The Guardian Media Group, The British Medical Association, a lot of faith organizations
and the Church of Scotland. And even the Bill
and Melinda Gates Foundation, who would not call it “divestment,”
but that is really what they do. So, the entire sum adds up to 3.4 trillion US dollars that are committed
for divestment right now. Now, what about my hometown, Berlin,
and the campaign I’m in? We are not on the list yet, but we had a meeting
with the senator for finance last week. And he said that he began
looking into divestment just shortly after
we launched our campaign, and he expects it to be done
by the end of this year. We’re ten people in a four million town. Now – (Applause) Getting him to talk to us obviously was a lot of work
in the past year. And I did most of that work
at nights and on weekends because of my family
and my job filling my days. It was very exhausting,
but I could not stop. It was also a challenge
for the people around me, and my husband at times,
frankly, almost went nuts. Thank God, he is here today. So, over the last winter,
I decided to take a climate sabbatical. I was lucky I could do that. I wanted more time during the day
for the Berlin campaign, and also, I wanted to do something else, I wanted to address my own pension fund –
Versorgungswerk der Presse – and make them divest. I sent a letter to them last fall, and shortly after, they replied saying that they had decided
to divest partly from coal. Sometimes it can be that simple;
it was just one letter – and of course, the threat to tell
the entire German press about it, but OK. (Laughing) But it is just a first step;
it’s really too little. I want my pension to be clean, and that’s why I want them
to go all the way. So I built this website, and I’m mobilizing journalists
and other supporters to send divestment letters to the Versorgungswerk der Presse
through this website. I hope you will check it out. And if you think
it’s a good idea, contribute. Now, there is really no need to go all the way crazy
over divestment like I did. You can actually get things going
with fairly little effort. And that’s why I want
to encourage you to take action. Look around you – the person next to you might be a member
of the same pension fund or a customer of the same bank as you. You can get together
and start by writing a letter. If you are not sure how to do it,
send me an email – we’ll get it done. Now, I’ve lived in Hamburg,
and I know that it’s a wealthy city. If you have money,
make sure it does the right thing, and then go and tell everyone
what you did and why. If we let our financial institutions know that we do not want to benefit
from global warming anymore, we will set in motion a change process. I guarantee: the more we are the better. And my dream is that one day
when we are looking back, the fossil fuel industry
will be quoted this: “When the divestment movement began,
we knew that fossil fuels had to end.” [The fossil fuel industry] Thank you. (Applause)

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