This morning, for me, it started with Finn’s cheery chirp before he hopped up on the bed purring breakfast suggestions. Cuillin, on the other side of the bed, chimed in. I whispered that it was too early. Then the numbers began. No, not the cats’ unfortunately, but starting with Tim McKay’s.
Tim McKay is the President of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., one of the largest oil and gas companies in Canada. The number that came to mind, in the dark, was one that I had read in his May 4, 2023 announcement of CNRL’s 2023 First Quarter Results. There were a lot of big numbers, but the one that stood out for me was $2.8 billion. This was the amount of money that the company had given to shareholders in the form of dividend payments and share buybacks over the year to date. Yes, in just four months and three days: $2.8 billion.
I couldn’t help thinking how these numbers relate to others. $120 billion, for example, which is the cost to the Canadian health care system from nitrogen dioxide, fine particulate matter and other pollutants caused by the production of and burning of fossil fuels. Or, one in four, which is how many children in Ontario have asthma, one of the many health impacts of air pollution. Or one in three, which is how many people in Ontario will develop asthma in their lifetime. A scenario that may be even more likely now, in light of Tim’s description of how CNRL is increasing production, not only by drilling new well pads, but also by cutting well maintenance from every year to every two years, to eliminate downtime. More nitrogen dioxide, more fine particulate matter and other pollutants for us and our children to inhale.
I wondered what the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board will do with its ill-gotten gains. (Yes, this story gets worse.) CPPIB is a major investor in CNRL, to the tune of more than 22 million shares with a market value of more than $1.7 billion at March 31, 2022.
Maybe it will invest it in solar energy, I thought, more sarcastically, than hopefully. Because here’s the thing about that $2.8 billion figure. (Yes, this story keeps getting worse. ) It is also the value of large solar projects (worth more than $20 million) that as of 2022 are under construction or planned over the next 10 years in Canada. A depressingly puny amount, but one that was trumpeted in the recent newsletter from the Canadian Climate Institute as a sign of progress, having increased from solar projects with a potential value of $600 million under construction or planned in 2017. Oy. The article said that investments in clean growth need to increase to put the country on track to meet its climate goals. I’ll say.
CPPIB still doesn’t get it. It refuses to divest. It refuses to set targets to reach its stated goal of net zero by 2050. Shift Action, in assigning the Gold Star for Greenwashing Award to CPPIB, used the word ‘obfuscation’ to describe CPPIB’s approach to the climate crisis. It’s a perfect word. Say it. Say it slowly with a low voice. It’s almost onomatopoeic. The other ones that a thesaurus will spit out are good too: “obscure, confuse, blur, muddle, garble, muddy, cloud…muddy-the-waters…” Perfect description of CPPIB’s methodology. Take this, for example…it’s from John Graham’s introduction to the fund’s 74-page Report on Sustainable Investing:
“Investing for generations requires us to prioritize our long-term objectives while also managing present day challenges. Current market challenges include high inflationary pressure, fragile supply chains, and food and energy insecurity. Yet these immediate challenges don’t eliminate the need to further explore how our influence as an asset owner and voting shareholder can improve the way our global investment ecosystem addresses longer- term issues, like climate change and evolving stakeholder expectations.”
See? No urgency. Climate change is way off, a longer-term thing, as innocuous as evolving stakeholder expectations.
But here’s where the story gets better. I turned my mind, then, to the people to whom we are mailing our post cards. Who are they? What they will think of our personal touch? John Graham, the President and CEO, Heather Monroe-Blum, Chair of the CPPIB Board of Directors, and Richard Manley, Chief Sustainability Officer. CPPIB’s 2022 Annual Report reports that John’s total compensation, including various awards, as well as pension and benefits, for the year was more than $5.3 million. Heather was, until 2021, also a director of the Royal Bank of Canada, the world’s largest investor of fossil fuels. CPPIB’s annual report noted that the topics of the board’s professional development sessions included climate change. Richard spent 18 years at Goldman Sachs, another major investor in the oil and gas industry.
I reviewed the journey to get to this point, the day our little SCAN! Pension Divestment Working Group (Karen, Magdalene, Jan, and Walter) is starting to get our post cards into the hands of SCAN! members, and from them into more hands. More than a thousand people sending our postcards with their personal messages to John, Heather and Richard!
It’s been work and it’s been fun – brainstorming, building on each other’s ideas, deciding the images and messages, and working out the details and processes for printing and distribution. We’ve had help along the way, especially from Geoff, with his incredible graphic design skills, and from Diane, who helped fuse our messages with our images, from Pat, for help with sourcing the printing, from the Coordinating Committee, for its enthusiastic support. And all the SCAN! members who agreed to help distribute the cards: Alan, Gail, Pramila, Letitia, Jamie, Ken, Pat, Karen, and Terry.
I felt fortunate that as a retired person I could spend time working on this little piece of climate action. It helps to deal with the inherent contradiction of pensions in a world that needs degrowth.
Moya Beall is a SCAN! member. She participates in the Ontario Project and the Pension Divestment Project Working Group.
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