Currently, Seattle has $17,600,000 dollars invested in Chevron and ExxonMobil and smaller investments in other gas and oil companies.

On Friday, December 21, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn sent a letter to the Seattle City Employees’ Retirement System Board urging them to “refrain from future investments in fossil fuel companies and begin the process of divesting our pension portfolio from those companies.”

The mayor references data from Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, that states “fossil fuel corporations now have 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide in their reserves, five times the amount considered safe to avoid catastrophic climate change.”

McGinn also quotes the city’s finance director:  “The City of Seattle’s finance director informs me that two of the(Deferred Compensation Plan Committee’s) top 10 investments are with ExxonMobil and Chevron. . . , representing 0.9% of the system’s $1,900,000,000 in assets.”

Why is the mayor so keen on divestment?  He continues, “There is a clear economic argument for divestment.  While fossil fuel companies do generate a return on our investment, Seattle will suffer greater economic and financial losses from the impact of unchecked climate change.

“Our infrastructure, our businesses and our communities would face greater risk of damages and losses due to turbulent weather that climate change causes.

“As a waterfront city, several of our neighborhoods and industrial districts are at risk if climate change causes a significant rise in sea level.”

Leaving the northwest coast to look at matters on the nation’s northeast coast, divestment news comes from Maine’s Unity College.  Unity offers undergraduate education emphasizing the environment and natural resources.

Founded in 1965, in 2007 it was ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of America’s Best Colleges.   In 2010, it was named to the Princeton Review list of the eighteen leading “green” colleges.

On Monday, November 5, the Unity College Board of Trustees unanimously voted to divest the College endowment from fossil fuels, citing the College’s commitment to sustainability.  In conjunction with the 350.org program of divestment, Unity College is now

the first to take this action.

In an editorial, Unity’s President Mulkey wrote:  “We are running out of time.  While our public policy makers equivocate and avoid the topic of climate change, the window of opportunity for salvaging a livable planet for our children and grandchildren is rapidly closing.

“The way forward is clear, though for many confrontation-averse academics the path seems impassable.  It requires action that is unnatural to the scientifically initiated:  to fight to regain the territory illegitimately occupied by the climate change deniers.

“In our zeal to be collegial, we engage with those who are paid by vested interests to argue that our Earth is not in crisis.

“When these individuals demonize public investment in alternative energy, we fail to point out how the oil industry benefited from significant taxpayer support in its infancy and continues to receive government subsidies today.

“We also sidestep the thorny issue of how oil and coal, in particular, fund large-scale organized opposition efforts to deny legitimate science, winning the battle for climate change public opinion with slogans, junk science, and money.”

At Harvard, 74% of students urge their administration to divest the college of fossil fuel investments, but to date, no action has been taken.

The City of Seattle and Unity College are among the first reported outcomes of a divestment education campaign organized by 350.org and promoted by numerous other environmental groups.  It’s modeled after a campaign in the 1980s that pressured South Africa into abandoning apartheid, thus forcing an end to the country’s racial segregation policies.

My Take on the issue of divestment:  I salute the courage and forward-thinking of McKibben, McGinn and Mulkey.

Sources:  Think Positive, December 23, 2012    Wikipedia    Unity College press release             


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