A coalition of 55 organizations and over 50 celebrities and influencers have launched a completely digital climate protest: The Virtual March to Retire Big Oil.
The objective? To demand climate-friendly options for every American’s 401(k) plans.
According to As You Sow, a nonprofit that empowers shareholders to invest in their values, a fifth of all money invested in oil and gas comes from Americans’ retirement accounts.
The nonprofit estimates that 19% of the market cap of U.S. fossil fuel companies comes from investments in 401(k) contribution plans and IRAs.
Essentially, if Americans want to create a nest egg, they have very few options to avoid investing in oil and gas.
Not only does this reality seem misaligned from people’s values; it’s also a large financial risk, considering coal, oil, and gas stocks could face a large decrease in annual returns in the coming decades.
“Fossil fuels have dramatically underperformed other asset classes for the past decade, and for an obvious reason: a new industry, renewable energy, has arisen that delivers the same product, just more cheaply and cleanly,” Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and Third Act, said in a statement.
“Everyone should have the option to avoid investing in oil and gas, not only for their financial future, but so they can help ensure we have a planet worth living on in retirement.”
In order to sever financial ties with big oil, the Virtual March to Retire Big Oil encourages everyday people to participate in “a march down Wall Street that happens only on social media.”
Using an app and the help of AI, participants can upload a selfie and download a generated image of them marching in protest, together with thousands of others.
Once uploading a selfie, users are given a few options, with a watermark that says: “This photo is fake, but the crisis is real.”
The digital protest idea was developed by creative agency Buena, with an intention of making change without making pollution.
“We see this as a whole new way to build a movement. While you can never replace the importance of protesting in person, virtual marching means anyone can participate regardless of geography, financial state, or physical ability,” Doug Burnett, founder of Buena, said in a statement.
“As a climate march, it’s especially nice to avoid flights or gas to rally people together.”
According to the Retire Big Oil website, once the project makes waves and catches the attention of Wall Street, organizers will coordinate their efforts into “small doable monthly actions” to help people divest from big oil and inspire companies to add climate-safe retirement options.
The project also surmises that removing oil and gas investments from one’s 401(k) is more impactful than other actions, such as getting an electric car or installing solar power. According to the website, divesting from oil and gas can save 22 tons of carbon emissions every year.
With compelling messaging like this, celebrities like Susan Sarandon, Patton Oswalt, Don Cheadle, and Shepard Fairey have joined the cause.
They are rallying behind another big Hollywood name: Adam McKay, the director of blockbusters like “Don’t Look Up,” “The Big Short,” and the mind behind Yellow Dot Studios, which creates content fighting climate disinformation.
“Even for Wall Street, it's astonishingly sadistic and myopic to force people to use their future retirement savings to help oil and gas companies literally erase that future,” McKay said in a statement.
“Everyone should be calling this out, if for no other reason than to stop the big 401(k) platforms from flushing your savings down the toilet.”
For other stakeholders, this cause is personal.
Alex Wright-Gladstein is the founder and CEO of Sphere, which runs the first climate-friendly 401(k) fund and measures the financed emissions of existing 401(k)s, working with benefits teams at various companies to reduce those emissions.
Prior to Sphere, she worked at a different climate tech company, and she said it took three years to get its 401(k) providers to add a single climate-friendly investment option. This led her to a new frontier.
“It turns out I wasn’t alone,” Wright-Gladstein said in a statement. “There are entire social movements at the big tech companies that have been asking for these options for years.”
By mobilizing people through the Virtual March to Retire Big Oil, organizers hope that those asks will become even louder — and lead to a sustainable future — for both individual bank accounts and our shared planet.
“You busted your ass your whole life and some billionaire wants you to erase those savings to move their earnings a few more ticks into the black, all the while ignoring the oncoming climate crisis?” comedian Patton Oswalt said in a statement. “Time to stand together, folks!”
Header image courtesy of The Virtual March to Retire Big Oil