by Lina Blount
On November 15th, I sat in a wooden folding chair on a grassy corner outside the Pennsylvania headquarters of the investment company Vanguard. I was surrounded by dozens of others, all of us in worshipful, contemplative silence. We had taken Quaker meeting for worship out of our meeting houses and to the entrance to Vanguard’s headquarters.
Why? Vanguard is the world’s largest investor in fossil fuels, which are propelling us towards climate catastrophe. In 2022, Earth Quaker Action Team gathered outside the home of the CEO of Vanguard, while British Quakers gathered at Vanguard’s London office, and Quaker Earthcare Witness held a virtual gathering that spanned geography, all to urge Vanguard to support the transition from climate destruction towards decarbonization.
This year, we went to Vanguard’s headquarters to honor our grief for what has already been lost to environmental destruction, to hold in our hearts our belief that Vanguard must use its power and influence responsibly, and to ground ourselves in our commitment to take action until it does so.
So, we worshiped in public, with large banners that said things like “Vanguard invests in climate destruction” around us. It was through the silence that I felt, rising up inside of me, a reminder of why we take action at Vanguard and the stakes of its power. I stood up to speak out of the silence, sharing how I feel such grief and anger for the lives already impacted by climate change – through droughts, floods, heat waves, fires, pollution, and the violence that comes out of the scarcity and chaos of climate disasters. Lives and species have already been lost due to the inaction of those profiting off of business as usual, and that will continue unless we, and Vanguard, make a change.
QEW partnered with EQAT to bring this local worship to Friends across the United States and all the way to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Across such distance, we still felt connected in knowing that the impact of Vanguard’s investments – and our power to do something about it – is global.
Keith Runyan shared that “We live in a moment in which the integrity of the Web of Life hangs in the balance of human choice. As one of the world’s largest investors in fossil fuels, with $7.7 trillion under management, Vanguard has the power to shape the future of countless species – including our own. We ask that Vanguard come under the weight of this profound responsibility in our times and align itself with Life.”
Our meeting for worship centered on attention to true climate stewardship. Stewardship is a stated value of Vanguard’s, but it’s currently failing to responsibly steward its customers’ savings for a livable future. According to a 2021 report, Vanguard could lose at least $3 trillion by 2050 if it fails to act on the climate crisis.
Company leadership has so far refused to take sufficient action, lagging behind its peers in the asset management industry by not engaging sufficiently with the companies it invests in on climate change issues and by failing to release plans to decarbonize its investment portfolio according to what science tells us is necessary for a livable future.
These meetings for worship were part of an international campaign, called “Vanguard S.O.S.” Through protests, phone calls, letters, petitions, and other actions over the past two years, we have been asking Vanguard to use its influence as a major shareholder to push the companies it invests in to significantly reduce their emissions, and exit its investments in fossil fuel companies that refuse to transition their businesses to be in alignment with a livable future.
This past fall, in addition to praying for true climate stewardship at Vanguard’s headquarters, interfaith ministers spoke up at a Vanguard-sponsored conference, elders celebrated Grandparents’ Day by calling on Vanguard to plant seeds for a livable future, and young people went to Vanguard during the school day, declaring “Vanguard, don’t rob our future!” People of all faiths, all ages, and from all over are joining this collective effort to draw a line in the sand and say “Never Vanguard” until the asset manager makes a serious course correction on climate change and environmental injustice.
Anyone, no matter who or where they are, can join the effort by signing the “Never Vanguard” pledge. For some, signing the pledge is a commitment to move out savings invested with Vanguard. For others, pledging means promising not to start new investments or work for Vanguard until it deals with its climate change problem and invests for a livable future.
Asset managers, like Vanguard, are permitting fossil fuel companies to poison us today and set up future generations for climate catastrophe- phe. But by coming together to take action, we can make powerful corporations start working for a just and livable future.
Lina Blount is the Director of Strategy and Partnerships at Earth Quaker Action Team, a grassroots group including Quakers and people of diverse beliefs who use nonviolent direct action to work towards a just and sustainable economy.