Divest Fest – 11 May 2019 – A Fossil Free South Africa community update with our guest speaker, environmental scientist Samantha Keen. (A Summary)

A Summary of our May Divest Fest written by Fossil Free SA Volunteer Andrew Park:

On Saturday 11 May, Fossil Free South Africa hosted our latest Divest Fest at UCT, featuring environmental scientist Samantha Keen as guest speaker on the costs of air pollution to people and the economy. Our modest but enthusiastic crowd of attendees was eager to ask questions of the speakers and debate the way forward for the divestment movement in South Africa.

FFSA coordinator, David Le Page, opened the event and laid out its context, including an update on the tragic state of the environment. The sobering facts were illustrated with graphs, time lapsing maps and statements from the likes of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Swedish youth climate activist Greta Thunberg.


Samantha Keen took the floor next, with her presentation on “The Dramatic Hidden Human and Economic Cost of Air Pollution in South Africa”. She explained the effects of “fine particulate matter” – tiny toxic particles produced when fossil fuels are burned –on the human body, and discussed the methods and results of local and global research confirming its severe health impacts, including increasing mortality.

Further studies attempting to quantify the benefits of reduced pollution for people and economies were also shared, with vigorous debate around the inherent challenges of such research.

Take-home points included:

  • the need for policy to be guided by local-level calculations of human/economic impacts and
  • the need for long-term epidemiological studies in South Africa to provide researchers with better data.

Glen Tyler of 350 Africa then provided attendees with information on the global divestment movement, its methods, tactics and progress, and discussed options and campaigns for investment in renewable energy. He announced the international “Financing the Future” conference to be held on the 10th and 11th of September in Cape Town, which will cover both divestment from fossil fuels and reinvestment in renewable energy. It is hoped that this will invigorate the divestment movement in the Global South, in particular.


Lastly, David updated attendees on FFSA’s recent activity. He began with the Spotlight campaign, which targeted major South African asset managers requesting the creation of fossil-free investment funds, and included an online petition, social media campaign, endorsements from public figures and full page advertisement in Business Day.

Read more about how the relevant asset managers responded to our campaign.

He also announced the possibility of a fossil-free fund for South Africa in the near future, as a result of our work with the Efficient Group, Just Share and financial services providers. To end on an even more hopeful note, David closed the event by highlighting a few signs of hope, such as worldwide school strikes, the declaration of a climate emergency in the UK parliament, and the popularity of a proposed “Green New Deal” for the United States.


Discussion amongst speakers and attendees was lively and broad-ranging, with themes including government’s sudden decision to double SO2 emission limits for polluters, the practical value of the UK’s declaration of climate emergency, and how to hold trustees to account for failing to disclose the threat of climate change to pension funds in their care.

Fossil Free South Africa would like to thank our guest speakers and all who attended for making this Divest Fest such a worthwhile experience.

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