Fighting for forests and standing up to money managers: Using our voices, our bodies and our poetry to call for defunding deforestation

by Jeff Conant, Senior International Forests Program Manager, Friends of the Earth

the night of September 13, a group of local activists — wearing N-95 masks against the toxic wildfire smoke, under cloth masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and maintaining strict physical distance — visited the San Francisco headquarters of BlackRock, the world’s largest investment firm.

The goal was to kick off a series of global actions to bring renewed attention to BlackRock’s role as a major driver of the climate crisis, and to give the company a warning that neither toxic wildfire smoke nor a global pandemic will deflect attention from the role that they and other large money managers play in fostering planetary destruction.

There are as many ways to raise awareness of the role that big finance plays in the climate crisis as there are ways to drive Washington and Wall Street towards a just transition — and we need all of them. One approach is to provide data-driven analysis, like the new report Friends of the Earth published this week: Doubling Down on Deforestation: How the Big Three Asset Managers Enable Consumer Goods Companies to Destroy the World’s Forests. Doubling Down on Deforestation will be shared with public pension funds and other large asset owners as a way to build pressure on the world’s largest money managers to address their role in driving deforestation.

Another important piece to building awareness of the urgency of the deforestation crisis is to listen to the voices of the world’s Indigenous Peoples demanding action.

Another route is to build grassroots pressure and bring it straight to the financiers with powerful messages from the streets, as we did in the toxic wildfire haze of San Francisco earlier this week. Following the action at BlackRock’s headquarters in San Francisco, other actions unfolded at the offices of State Street in Boston and Vanguard in Philadelphia. And at each of these events we delivered over 125,000 petition signatures to tell these money managers to defund deforestation.

Another path, one that too often gets left behind, is to wield the power of poetry to draw attention to these atrocities and inspire us to keep fighting to restore our connections to the living world. In that spirit, as we gathered in the wildfire smoke in the hazy darkness of San Francisco, Rebecca Solnit, a much-admired author and activist with deep roots In Northern California, shared these words:

The Fires Have Burned All the Excuses

by Rebecca Solnit

“The ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and it could just as easily be made differently.” — David Graeber

The fires have burned millions of acres.

They burned homes, towns, dreams, trees, forests, roads, schools, signs,

owls snakes salamanders raptors mosses frogs ferns songbirds.

They have also burned up all the excuses –

the excuses from politicians, from investors, the excuses from Blackrock.

The old arguments are that we cannot undertake great change.

But change is inevitable.

Nothing is stable in the face of this transformation of the earth and sky themselves.

We cannot stop change but we can play a role in it.

The fires are burning because of climate change,

and they are burning because of the mistaken belief

that western forests were static, passive, fragile.

They were made to burn and to survive burning; ours is a fire ecology.

White people arrived in the Americas as though

it was a blank sheet of paper

on which to write our own story.

But it was already inscribed, and we needed to learn to read it

and to listen to whose story was inscribed there.

So a century and more of ignoring what Native Americans knew

meant a century and more of trying to prevent change in the form of fire –

made fire a catastrophe.

As did a century or more of ignoring

what it means to take carbon out of the earth and put it back in the sky,

carbon in the form of coal, of oil, of gas, all buried by plants sequestering carbon.

Fire burned up the old excuses

and reminded us that we need to get back

on the side of the forests, the grasslands, all the plants that sequester carbon.

The red of fire, the red sky, the orange night at noon:

they are here to tell us that we forgot the green,

and the green will come out of the ashes, forgiving us

but also telling us

the trees and grasses cannot do it without us,

nor we without them.

With the voices of the world’s Indigenous Peoples guiding us, and the power of poetry on our side, let’s continue the effort to #DefundDeforestation!

Friends of the Earth U.S. defends the environment and champions a healthy and just world. www.foe.org