Why super funds need to get out of fossil fuels

HESTA billboard with bushfire survivor Jo Dodds

OPINION | Jo Dodds, President of Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action

Over recent weeks, bushfires have been raging across the country in NSW, Victoria and Central Australia, and it’s deeply troubling. I’m worried for everyone near the fires. It’s particularly stressful for anyone who has survived other fires in recent years as we relive the heartache.

Every fire reaffirms my commitment to take urgent climate action. This week’s international climate report and pleas for urgent action by United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres to end all new fossil fuel projects, reinforces my resolve.

I’ve had my super with HESTA Superannuation Fund for decades and have always been happy with their service and their returns. But I’m now planning to close my account and put my precious savings with another fund. And here’s why.

Five years ago I nearly lost one of only two major assets I’ll ever own: my home. The Tathra District bushfire in southern New South Wales, sparked by faulty power lines and driven by extraordinarily hot, dry wind, tore through the forests towards my home.

My partner and I spent five torturous hours standing on the bank of the Bega River watching as smoke billowed from our neighbours’ homes. The blast-furnace wind drove the fire towards our house and a predicted wind change was going to wrap the flames around it. 

Suffocating grey smoke billowed from the forest, punctuated by dense columns of black smoke as homes burnt. Gas cylinders started exploding in town. We saw people evacuating across the bridge, packed so tightly into cars they were pressed to the windows, standing in trailers, their faces blank with shock and disbelief. We understood it wasn’t just our neighbourhood; the small coastal town we love was also under attack.

I braced myself to lose everything. My grandmother’s jewellery, not valuable enough to insure but priceless to me. All my family photos, my identity documents, tax records. Every piece of creative writing I’d ever written. The beautiful bedspreads my mother had crocheted for me.  The last letter she wrote me before she died. Precious items which can’t be replaced.

That day I realised climate change wasn’t just a future threat. It was a catastrophe, right here and now, destroying homes and businesses, tearing families and communities apart. 

In the end we didn’t lose our house. The wind simply stopped blowing and the fire became manageable. But 69 other families weren’t so lucky. Many of them lost everything.

Five years on we’ve witnessed two more devastating bushfires lasting for months. We’ve lost more than 400 other homes in our area. Worst of all, people have lost their lives.

Some homes have been rebuilt but many of us are still struggling with the aftermath, the practicalities of resuming our lives, rebuilding our communities and coping with the trauma.

I feel like I’ve been fighting for my life every day since bushfires engulfed my community. Fossil fuel emissions are still rising and so is the average temperature. It means the next fires will be unimaginably worse.

More homes will be lost, including those rebuilt after recent fires. More people will die or be injured by the heat, smoke and flames. Millions more native animals will perish and landscapes will be permanently changed beyond recognition. How is recovery and resilience ever possible in the face of worsening climate disasters?

For me, recovering from the fires has been about doing what I can to prevent climate emissions. That’s where HESTA and most super funds come in with a bang.

My superannuation provider, along with almost all Aussie funds, are still investing our precious retirement savings in the fossil fuel sector. That means my super is investing in industries that are increasing the risk of my family home burning down.

Why would I keep investing my second biggest asset, my super, in something that increases the risk of me losing my biggest asset, my home?

That’s why I’ve joined a growing chorus of fund members and organisations like Market Forces, asking HESTA and all superannuation funds to get out of companies expanding fossil fuel developments.

HESTA billboard with bushfire survivor Jo Dodds

A billboard featuring Jo Dodds, calling on super fund HESTA to divest from fossil fuels

Tens of thousands of Australians are taking action calling on their super funds, banks and insurers to end their ties with the big carbon polluters.

There are many simple steps everyone can take to ask your super fund, bank and insurer how they plan to end their investments in any company involved with new fossil fuel development. Write an email, make a phone call or drop into their offices.

More and more people are voting with their feet or their money and choosing to put their hard earned dollars into more sustainable options.

You can visit organisations like Market Forces to learn more about how super funds, banks and insurance are faring on fossil fuels.

Other organisations like the Responsible Investment Association Australasia and Ethinvest have useful resources.

If you don’t get satisfactory answers from your fund, bank or insurer, you can complain to one of the regulators such as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission or the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC).

Both of these regulators are cracking down on greenwashing, misrepresenting the extent to which a financial product or investment strategy is environmentally friendly, sustainable or ethical.

One major super fund, Mercer, has been recently taken to court by ASIC for greenwashing and more legal proceedings are on the cards.

Super funds, banks and insurers need to act now and dump fossil fuels before the next fires, and before I have to flee my house because it’s under threat, again.

We can all make a stand to protect our most precious assets by calling our super funds, banks and insurers to account.

There are clear choices we can all make to limit the ravages of climate disasters. We can all play a role in making our communities safer.

It’s easy. Make your move today.

First published in Yahoo Finance