One of the greatest problems with privilege is privilege. It simply protects you from what you never have to see. As a woman in business, like many of my sisters, I have spent a lifetime dealing with the usual range of 'women's issues' - discrimination, lesser pay, various sexual assaults, bullying and intimidation. It wasn't ok, but it wasn't anything that ever bothered me.
Whatever happened to me, never made me sick, gave me cancer, killed my kids, left me with a maimed family or put me out of my home. And my greatest concern about fossil fuels was the cost of petrol, getting away from dirty energy and reducing plastics. Privilege puts you at the end of that line, not the start.
What most of us not never see is the impact of our privilege - at the extraction point. This 129 page report published by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International, deals with the well-known truth that the fossil fuel industry does not and will not affect everyone equally, as factors such as gender, race, and socio-economic status make certain communities significantly more vulnerable to the increasing threat of exploitation and ultimately climate change.
The report addresses the gender and race-specific health and safety impacts as well as human and Indigenous rights issues of fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure in the United States and selected parts of Canada. While this report is specific to North America, the detailed impacts and experiences are not unique to North American women, but also exist throughout the world. Its findings, implications, and recommendations can and should have a global impact for financial institutions supporting the fossil fuel industry elsewhere in the world.
The reality for thousands of women around the world is that the production, processing and transport of fossil fuels is linked to disproportionate health impacts - especially if you are a low income indigenous North American.
AROUND THE WORLD, AIR POLLUTION AND WATER CONTAMINATION HAVE BEEN LINKED TO BREAST CANCER, OVARIAN DISEASES, AND RISKS TO WOMEN’S PREGNANCIES. PROXIMITY TO FRACKING HAS BEEN LINKED TO ADVERSE BIRTH OUTCOMES, INCLUDING PREMATURE BIRTHS AND HIGH RISK PREGNANCIES.
Fossil fuel activity places additional burdens on women as primary caretakers. Health risks from pollution and fossil fuel driven climate change, heighten and impede women’s daily work and responsibilities. When children, elders, or other family members suffer from illnesses triggered by the proximity of polluting industries - e.g. asthma - women are, in most cases, the ones who end up having to stay home and take care of the sick.
The interlocking issues between caretaking and pollution can be seen in St. James Parish in “Cancer Alley,” in USA where residents cannot grow safe food because of fossil fuel derived soil pollution. This soil pollution prevents women from fulfilling this food security role, which includes providing healthy food to their families. Formosa’s giant petrochemical plant, planned for a predominantly African American/Black/African Diaspora district in St. James Parish, is estimated to emit 1.6 million pounds of toxic air pollution annually, more than doubling the 1.4 millions pounds already emitted annually by other plants in St. James, like Marathon and Occidental Petroleum.
Marathon and Occidental Petroleum are backed by Vanguard and BlackRock (who have widely reported that they are dumping fossil fuels). Financial institutions have a role in perpetuating these and other devastating impacts and others delineated in the report.
By continuing to finance, insure, and invest in fossil fuels, banks, asset managers, and insurance companies are neglecting their commitments to adhere to the Paris Agreement’s goals, are breaching international human rights law and treaties, including Indigenous Peoples’ right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, and are neglecting their internal ESG guidelines and agreements regarding frameworks such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
As the climate crisis accelerates and the global community transitions to cleaner energy, financial institutions who continue to support fossil fuel companies are exposed to physical and transitional risks, including regulatory, reputational, and financial (i.e. credit risks and stranded assets), as well as specific insurance risks.Financial institutions have been complicit in the violations against frontline women described in the report.
APART FROM BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS, TO BE CONSISTENT WITH THEIR OWN ESG COMMITMENTS, JPMORGAN CHASE, BANK OF AMERICA, ROYAL BANK OF CANADA, BLACKROCK, VANGUARD, AND LIBERTY MUTUAL MUST IMMEDIATELY DIVEST FROM AND STOP INSURANCE COVERAGE OF FOSSIL FUELS.
These financial institutions must adhere to and implement mandatory policies upholding human and Indigenous rights, and include direct consultation with Indigenous, frontline, and local communities in decision-making processes in areas where operations impact those communities.