[Column] Put your money where your mouth is

Columnist Vishal Onkhar thinks TU Delft should pay attention to the role of affiliated banks, pension funds and insurance agencies in exacerbating climate change.

Vishal Onkhar: “Rembrandt’s forays into Indian drawing techniques might have guided his hand in The Jewish Bride, a copy of which hangs in the hallways of 3mE.” (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

Not too long ago, I had the pleasure of helping organise a rather enlightening talk aimed at the researchers of 3mE on behalf of the faculty’s PhD Council. The speaker was a young professor from TPM, and her subject matter the role of scientists in combating climate change – both within and without the workplace. Being somewhat invested in this issue myself, I attended the online presentation in the hopes of refreshing my knowledge on the sorry state of our planet, but also to sate my curiosity about new kinds of sustainable lifestyle choices I could be making. In hindsight, I chalk up the latter feeling to a realisation just a few days prior to the event that I had been vegan for over a year, but had nothing to show for it. Little did I realise, going in, that this discussion would be the final nail in that coffin and make me question even whether my walking the path of veganism made any difference.

It is quite unusual to listen to a speech about the climate crisis and walk away (or in this case, log off) with less incentive than before to abstain from animal products, so let me endeavour to explain. Over the course of the discussion, it dawned on me that individuals shouldn’t have to shoulder the whole burden of climate change or make personal sacrifices in their diet (although the latter is still commendable for a plethora of reasons), especially when the problem is better dealt with at the source by restricting funding for companies that are actively destroying the environment. After all, this involves hitting them where it hurts – their wallets.

In recent times, numerous strategies to ‘persuade’ businesses to divest from ecologically harmful sectors and ‘encourage’ investment in sustainable ventures have come to the fore, such as peaceful protests and the exertion of political pressure. And these tactics are working, albeit not effecting change as rapidly as is the need of the hour. Thus, grassroots movements like University Rebellion NL (and its branch at TU Delft) will, in all probability, be central to escalating these efforts and bringing environmental targets to fruition.

‘Internationals at TU Delft are shepherded towards either ABN AMRO or ING’

Amidst the fierce backlash faced by fossil fuel corporations and the livestock industry, the role of organisations such as banks, pension funds, and insurance agencies in exacerbating climate change often goes unmentioned – a point I would like to draw attention to. These institutions amass vast sums of money through their myriad customers and, in turn, sink this capital into multiple sectors across the board. However, in terms of socially responsible and sustainable investment, not all are created equal.

Enter TU Delft, a university with many tie-ups, more employees, and even more students. For their banking needs, internationals at TU Delft are typically shepherded towards either ABN AMRO or ING in a bid to make the lives of (clueless) foreigners easier. While TU Delft’s heart appears to be in the right place with this decision, it is worth noting that these two banks are notorious for allegedly spending over USD 2 billion and almost USD 7 billion, respectively, in the last five years on deforestation projects in the Amazon. To put it plainly, a portion of that money most definitely originates from the savings of TU Delft’s students and employees! And for brevity’s sake, I won’t even broach the subjects of ING’s involvement in the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, ABN AMRO’s foray into oil and gas extraction in the Arctic, and both banks’ stakes in palm oil (in Dutch), but a pattern is evident here. This quandary could readily be remedied if TU Delft recommended more sustainable banks instead, such as ASN (operated by de Volksbank) and Triodos, which invest little to no money (in Dutch) in these sectors.

Further afield, it seems that pension fund ABP is no innocent bystander either, with reported expenditures of almost USD 700 million linked to Amazonian deforestation, close to EUR 175 million on palm oil plantations in Papua (in Dutch), and a whopping EUR 16.5 billion on fossil fuel investments across the globe. It is ironic that Dutch retirement funds are being employed to feed the climate crisis when the people of the Netherlands stand to lose the most from global warming in the future. While TU Delft’s hands are partly tied on this matter (since ABP is the official pension fund for the Dutch education sector), it could still throw its weight around as a major partner to ensure that its employees’ money isn’t used to the detriment of the environment.

On a final, mixed, note there appear to be no significant financial contributions (in Dutch) towards deforestation from two health insurance agencies associated with TU Delft, namely OHRA (run by CZ) and Zilveren Kruis (part of Achmea), but there remain grave concerns about their involvements in shale gas and plastic production (in Dutch), not to mention more traditional types of fossil fuels (in Dutch). Perhaps this is another aspect for TU Delft to look into. As for me, I think I will retain my vegan eating habits, but this time with a load off my chest – the knowledge that the onus of saving our planet does not entirely rest with the individual.

Vishal Onkhar is from Chennai, India and pursuing his PhD in Vehicle Engineering at TU Delft. He is an avid player of chess and video games, but he also harbours a special interest for reading and writing fantasy fiction. He doesn’t drink coffee but good music and film have the same effect on him.

Columnist Vishal Onkhar

Do you have a question or comment about this article?


Comments are closed.