[Robert Brand is a retired city planner and businessperson and is a Senior Fellow at The Shalom Center. He has spent the past 60 years trying to figure out how to work for a more just world, focusing on how to mobilize resources and redistribute them to address issues of exclusion, inequity, and democracy. His work as a planner has involved a career in public health and labor activism, as the developer of an online software as a service package that secured close to $3 billion of support for low and moderate income people, and as an activist.
[The title of this article refers to a commitment and motto of #ExodusAlliance that affirms our goal as not only ending the deadly investments of Chase Bank in the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs that bring plagues on Earth and Humanity, but moving that money to purposes of life. Please see ExodusAlliance.org for more information and to join in sacred action toward and during Passover.]
By Robert Brand
A central belief of faith communities is working to make a better world. It is not enough to remove money from Chase or other financial institutions that fund fossil fuels and the destruction of our planet. Resources must do something that creates a better world, addresses historic inequities, builds an inclusive and welcoming society.
The first need in such a process may be a place to park resources while figuring out how to invest wisely and justly. Community Development Financial Institutions can accept short term investments; credit unions and cooperative banks can create accounts; and investment funds can offer safe parking and potential partnerships.
Then look at some areas where good resources can make a difference. That may require experts to conduct quick feasibility studies to minimize risk of these new investments. Some possible life-affirming alternatives:
1. Repairing damage done by fossil fuel extraction. The damage done by coal, oil, and natural gas is pervasive. There are many thousands of abandoned oil wells and coal mines that continue to pollute groundwater, emit methane, and poison their immediate areas. Mountaintop removal for mining of coal has also created massive environmental hazards and constant threats of landslides. There is a major existing allocation of infrastructure funds to begin cleaning up these areas to prevent further harm and restore land for public use. Community-based enterprises that will do this work, and are committed to family sustaining wages and benefits, offering employment to workers in the fossil fuel industry, and social equity will need capital for equipment and startup costs. These enterprises will be profitable, whether they are incorporated as for-profit or nonprofit entities, and will be able to pay a modest dividend on investments or repayment of loans.
2. Investing in solar, wind and geothermal projects can help these initiatives move further faster. In some communities there are neighborhood solar cooperatives being formed. They often will need some assistance in getting established and they can repay investments through the savings on energy that they produce. There is increased interest in developing wind and solar farms in rural areas to help farmers and rural communities prosper and to create a stream of renewable energy to support homes that will cut their ties to the Carbon Pharaohs. There are also pilot geothermal projects that offer investment opportunities.
3. Work is being done to promote Deep Energy Retrofits (DERs). Nineteen percent of the greenhouse gases the United States produces is from single family homes. Moving to all electric houses supported by renewable sources of electricity can reduce the carbon footprint of the United States by at least 12%. There are projects being discussed, developed, piloted, and run in too few, but a growing number of communities. A recent paper proposes development of a financing pool that engages local stakeholders in each community whose business interests would benefit from DERs. The National Renewable Energy Lab has recently published a guide for community planning of these initiatives. This is in addition to a range of government funds that already exist or are in the pipeline. As these efforts begin there will be huge opportunities for employment, significant local or regional production of materials, and the creation of enterprises that seek to serve low and moderate income communities, where the largest energy savings will take place. These enterprises also provide opportunities for people who have been excluded from skilled, family sustaining jobs with career paths. Substantial investments can be made to support the development of enterprises that will do the work and produce the materials needed.
4. Trees, trees, and more trees. Trees are essential to renew land that has been clear-cut, sites of mountaintop removal, sites of abandoned oil and gas and coal extraction. Trees are also essential to create microclimates in cities that reduce summer heat. They also begin to restore some connection between people and nature through management of these trees. All of this requires a public commitment. We know that there are specific varieties of trees that work in specific climates. We also know that trees that are grown from seed in the areas in which they will mature adapt to air quality and climate in those areas and thrive much better than those that are transported from faraway nurseries. There are opportunities to invest in nurseries and employ people who will grow, plant, and tend trees throughout the nation. Government, utilities, developers, all will be eager customers for trees. Early investment can help the nurseries develop family sustaining wages and using environmentally sound practices.
5. All Wood Construction. While we are at trees, we should note that there is an increasing interest in all wood construction. Wood construction in modern days is fire resistant and is a carbon capture and storage system. In addition, all wood construction removes cement and concrete from the construction site, both of which are energy hogs. There are two architecture schools in North America that have departments devoted to all wood construction. Commercial architects have built all wooden buildings up to 14 stories. These buildings are sound and create huge opportunities for urban and rural partnerships to finance construction, proper management of forest lands and the development of a very green part of the construction sector.
6. Building networks of Green House Nursing Homes. These small community based homes (10 to 12 residents) offer improved quality service to residents, are popular with residents and staff, increased the hours of staff – resident contact, have had virtually no Covid problems, and are cost competitive with traditional nursing homes. Conventional nursing homes are not popular. People who need the service don’t want to go there. This is a significant alternative. There are about 150 Green House nursing homes in the United States now. Many communities have bonding authorities that could finance these homes. Just buying the bonds or partnering with nonprofits could significantly increase the number of these homes and, in some cases, reuse some traditional nursing home buildings.
7. Indoor, controlled environment agriculture is a growing need. Aeroponic production uses 5% of the water of traditional agriculture, uses no chemical fertilizers, and can move food production close to people consuming the food. Most of the aeroponic and hydroponic enterprises have confined themselves to a small set of crops, the easiest to grow. Yet there have been more than 50 crops successfully grown aeroponically or hydroponically. The availability of resources would encourage the creation of new enterprises that better serve our communities.
8. Fixing the supply chain increasingly means shortening and localizing the supply chain. Years ago, a Massachusetts nonprofit economic development agency built a simple model to help businesses identify suppliers in their local community. It was so widely used that the website crashed and had to be rebuilt to handle more robust traffic. Building such exchanges create opportunities for good investments.
Charlie Chaplin said, “You will never see the rainbow if you are always looking down.” We will never see the future until we move our money and resources from destruction to hope and opportunity.