My retirement savings destroy the planet (and ESG isn’t the solution)
The most responsible thing to do for our individual future fuels our collective demise.
A top-recommended #adulting habit is to start adding to our Roth IRA account (in the USA) or RRSP (in Canada) as soon as we start gainful employment. Some of us work in organizations that provide pension plans, which is a group version of the same. We (try to) save money in retirement accounts throughout our working lives so that, sooner or later, we can retire and stop earning an income from our work.
What do we hold in our retirement accounts? A small slice of the extractive economy that’s destroying the planet.
Indeed, with our savings, we either buy stocks or some financial products related to stocks. In other words, we own fractions of companies — mostly multinational giants — that make money (for their owners, including us) by supplying the world with goods (a.k.a. things). There are some big companies that mostly provide services in the world, but mostly those services facilitate the creation, distribution, or sale of goods
And where do things come from?
From big holes in our beautiful earth.
The more things people buy, the better the companies do, the stronger the economy, the higher the returns in our retirement portfolio… the bigger the hole in our beautiful earth.
Despite doing my best to live a planet-friendly lifestyle and consume responsibly, I am aware of how my personal sense of long-term security and peace of mind has become intertwined with the destruction of the environment. And it hurts.
Please, don’t try to convince me that “responsible” investing is the solution. Stocks with top ratings for “ESG” (Environment, Social, Governance) include companies that manufacture electronics, others that provide services that support the works of other large (extractive) companies, and banks that underpin the whole system. Yes, those specific ESG-happy companies may cause a little less damage, or make better attempts at fixing things up after the fact. But, at the end of the day, there still isn’t a way to make lots of money for shareholders and employ thousands on people without causing (or helping others cause) significant damage.
That’s the genius of destructive capitalism as we know it: beyond the boardroom and C-suite offices, millions of us, many of which just ordinary people with small retirement accounts, have a personal stake in keeping the system going.
Of all the pain and grief about environmental degradation and climate change, the hardest to me isn’t seeing species going extinct forever. Rather, it’s being cognizant of my share of responsibility in it, and not yet knowing how to act upon it — or having the courage to.
Brigitte Gemme is a vegan food educator, meal planner, and coach. After a PhD in sociology of higher education and a 15-year career in research management, she got impatient with the slow pace of planet-friendly change and decided to help individuals live a gentler life. If you need help deciding what’s for dinner, check out her meal plans at VeganFamilyKitchen.com. If you need personal guidance and accountability to embrace a gentler lifestyle, consider signing up for a free week with her using coupon code BRIGITTEWEEK on coach.me. Brigitte loves nothing more than helping more people eat more plants.