What to do? How to take environmental action


At a recent event it was clear that ordinary people are looking for ways to take action against climate change and to improve the environment, but actually people are quite overwhelmed and either don’t know where to start or where they can have the most impact.

I would love to hear some super useful, practical ideas of how and where we can get active and show our leaders that things need to change.

Any and all ideas all over South Africa most welcome!


Short answer: Stop investing in fossil fuels: coal, gas and oil. Insist that your financial adviser/retirement fund/asset manager gives you the option to invest in the sustainable emerging economy, and not in the climate-killing old economy.

(You don’t think you’re invested in fossil fuels? Unless you’re managing your own portfolio and have excluded fossil fuels, you’re close to 100% likely to be invested in fossil fuels, in SA.)

Longer answer: There are millions of South Africans who participate in some form of collective investment via retirement funds or direct personal investment. Every one of us has the option of casting very strong “votes” against climate change by refusing to have our money invested any longer in high-emitting companies like Sasol and BHP Billiton. If you’re an Allan Gray client, for example, you should know that they’re the second biggest investor in Sasol after the Government Employees Pension Fund.

Reality check: Taking action on this is difficult and frustrating at the moment. In Europe or the US, you can just switch funds. In SA, the funds we want don’t exist – yet.

As Fossil Free SA, we are trying to coordinate action between savers to ensure that we can collectively ask our retirement funds and asset managers to give us the options we need, and start to make it much easier to be ethical in our investments.

Ethical investment should be the norm, but at the moment, it’s very much the exception. Which in fact places us at great financial risk. Climate and carbon risk are already creating direct economic damage. Stranded assets could erode your savings, and even threaten the stability of the global financial system.

Want an example of how this works in practice? One smart retirement fund we know of uses ESG screening (environmental, social and governance), via the MSCI ESG leaders index – which kicked out Steinhoff from the index prior to the major fall in its price.

ESG screening and divestment are not the same thing – but ESG screening can effectively add up to divestment with suitably robust criteria.

There are hundreds of institutions around the world divesting from fossil fuels, even whole countries (Ireland). You haven’t heard about it because of our parochial/conservative media, but it’s happening on a huge scale.

The way we invest literally creates the future. If we want to create a different future, we have to invest differently. Please join us in doing this.


Brilliant, thank you David. It would be amazing to be a part of pushing for the establishment of an ethical fund to invest our money. And then of course putting your money where it might actually help the world!
Fossil Free SA is doing hugely important work.


I wrote this blog last week for this very reason. Divesting from fossil fuels was one of the ways to take action. https://ecoatlas.co.za/blog/15-ways-to-take-action-today/ Here are 15 ways to take action starting today.


I would love to have Fossil Free SA featured on Eco Atlas and also I will add the link to the story I just wrote where I listed divesting from fossil fuel as one of 15 ways to take action today. Sign up for Eco Atlas here, I am sure you will qualify and non-profits are sponsored for free on the platform. https://ecoatlas.co.za/get-listed


Love it, thank you Rhian, some great ideas there that are very do-able! Let’s take action!


Thanks so much for adding divestment to your list, Rhian – that’s great!

I would love for us to be listed – very busy right now with our upcoming conference Financing the Future (with partners), but will look into it during our upcoming admin consolidation month!


Challenging question, if you ask me… I don’t think there is a single clear solution at all, but rather a conglomerate of appropriate solutions that take the shortest, least environmentally costly route to the intended outcome.
Perhaps we should all simply focus on the areas where we can deliver demonstrative impact, not just messaging (er, yes, I know this is a message…) and social media posts. The operative word here is ‘action’ and that does not mean typing…but rather doing something that has a measurable and positive effect.

For example, we often overlook the systems that have been put in place to manage our resources and those that manage the system. We try to create novel, innovative ideas (not bad per se) while overlooking the obvious right here in our own back yard. We are encouraged to chase up new solutions to hackneyed problems, but yet we seldom try to exert influence at the point of most effect.

Take our new provincial government and their approach to the people whom they serve. Premier Winde’s initiative of Open Government on First Thursdays is a superb opportunity to raise important environmental issues directly with those politicians who are able to effect change. The First Thursday initiative means you can walk in to the Provincial Gov offices, Concourse level at 7 Wale Street, Cape Town and engage with Premier Winde, his cabinet and various departments.

So instead of wearing out your keyboard, why not pull on a pair of shoes (or not) and wear them out walking to First Thursdays and put your environmental action or solution into play.

More info: