Politicians and Big Oil, Gas and Coal have been in bed so long, they’re almost indistinguishable. Grassroots efforts to get fossil fuel money out of our national energy policy haven’t been very effective. Although it has support from President Obama, a 2012 attempt to end massive fossil fuel subsidies was shot down by a dirty energy-loving Congress. So people — students, activists, and local leaders — are taking action on their own.
The City of Seattle recently joined an effort to divest public funds from the fossil fuel industry. Seattle announced that it will not invest its cash balances in fossil fuel companies and is taking additional steps to divest employee-deferred compensation funds and pressure its pension fund system to pull money from Chevron and ExxonMobil, two of the system’s top 10 investments.
“The City oversees three sets of investments: 1) $1.4 billion in cash balances for daily operations – essentially the City’s checkbook balances; 2) $700 million of our employees’ investments from the City’s deferred compensation plan; and 3) our pension system, with holdings valued at $1.9 billion, reports Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn on his official website. “The first category is the only one I control directly. City staff report that none of that money is currently invested in fossil fuel companies. I have directed the City’s Finance Director, Glen Lee, that the City will not invest in those cash balances in fossil fuel companies in the future.”
McGinn says he was inspired by Bill McKibben and 350.org’s recent “Do The Math” tour, an effort to connect the dots between extreme weather, climate change and the fossil fuel industry. The 21-city tour kicked off on November 7 in Seattle and sold out every venue it’s visited.
From big state schools like the University of Michigan to small liberal arts colleges like Amherst, students have taken up the cause. At a number of schools, such as Swarthmore, students have already met with their boards of trustees to discuss proposals; at others, like the University of New Hampshire, activists have gathered thousands of petition signatures calling for action. Earlier this month, an official Harvard student resolution supporting divestment passed with 72% of the vote.
Although we’ve seen cities pledge to take their money out of big banks, this is the first time an entire city has gone on record as being opposed to the fossil fuel industry on all fronts — and taken action to hit them where it hurts. We hope Big Oil, Gas and Coal are paying attention. If Seattle’s divestment is successful, there are many other cities primed to follow suit. They may be able to ignore public protest and petitions, but three, four, ten billion dollars in funding? That just might get their attention.
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