Edinburgh International Book Festival: Greta Thunberg's decision to cancel appearance over Baillie Gifford sponsorship was a mistake – Scotsman comment
In a free society, there is a role for peaceful protest. However, as the backlash against Greenpeace’s regrettable decision to drape an “oil-black fabric” over Rishi Sunak’s home shows, sometimes it can be counterproductive.
Greta Thunberg is as zealous a climate activist as there is, choosing to sail across the Atlantic in a yacht to attend a US climate conference instead of taking a fossil fuel-powered plane. This isn’t a form of transport available to many, but she was making a point. Fair enough.
However, her decision to cancel her appearance at the Edinburgh International Book Festival over its sponsorship by investment management firm Baillie Gifford was a mistake. She claimed the company invests “heavily” in fossil fuels and that “greenwashing” – her description of its festival funding – allowed the company “to keep the social licence to continue operating”.
Baillie Gifford responded that just two per cent of its clients’ money was invested in companies “with some business related to fossil fuels”, while five per cent went to firms “whose sole purpose is to develop clean energy solutions”. And it also made a crucial point about net zero: “We are investing on behalf of our clients to grow their savings and retirement funds. When we invest in companies on their behalf, we do so over long time periods – typically ten years or more – so this has naturally led us away from traditional fossil fuel firms.”
So while protests by Thunberg and other environmental activists make a lot of noise, it is companies like Baillie Gifford that actually have the practical tools to make real cuts to greenhouse gas emissions. Their hard-headed, economic judgments are also a challenge to Sunak’s plans to “max out” North Sea oil and gas. As the Prime Minister seeks to lead Britain back to the past, investors are moving in the opposite direction.
Thunberg’s decision suggests she thinks change can be accomplished by PR stunts that make ephemeral headlines. However, the only way to truly win hearts and minds is by reasoned argument and there are few better public events for that than the Book Festival. What a shame.
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