Will Divestment Be The Best News Of 2017?


Time and again, the petroleum industry has used its political might to stymie global action on climate change. Now cities and states have become the new battleground. Photograph by Robert Nickelsberg / Getty

Some things we lose slowly, which seems better than losing them quicker; other things we gain too slowly:

The Movement to Divest from Fossil Fuels Gains Momentum

Tuesday should have been a day of unmitigated joy for America’s oil and gas executives. The new G.O.P. tax bill treats their companies with great tenderness, reducing even further their federal tax burden.


Part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, known as the 10-02 area, serves as the summer breeding ground for two hundred thousand caribou. Photograph by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty

And the bill gave them something else they’ve sought for decades: permission to go a-drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But, around four in the afternoon, something utterly unexpected began to happen. A news release went out from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, saying that New York was going to divest its vast pension-fund investments in fossil fuels. The state, Cuomo said, would be “ceasing all new investments in entities with significant fossil-fuel-related activities,” and he would set up a committee with Thomas DiNapoli, the state comptroller, to figure out how to “decarbonize” the existing portfolio.Cuomo’s office even provided a handy little Twitter meme of the type that activists often create: it showed three smoke-belching stacks and the legend “New York Is Divesting from Fossil Fuels.” The pension fund under Albany’s control totals two hundred billion dollars, making it one of the twenty largest pools of money on Earth.

Not to be outdone, half an hour later the comptroller of the city of New York, Scott Stringer, sent out a similar statement: he, too, was now actively investigating methods for “ceasing additional investments in fossil fuels, divesting current holdings in fossil-fuel companies, and increasing investments in clean energy.” Stringer’s pension funds add up to a hundred and ninety billion dollars—that’s in the top twenty, too.

Climate advocates—many of them at 350.org, the nonprofit that I founded—have been working for years to spur divestment from fossil-fuel stocks, and this was perhaps the biggest single day of that campaign, which in turn is the largest divestment campaign in history. With Tuesday’s announcements, the endowments and portfolios engaged in the process collectively manage more than six trillion dollars in assets. More important, Cuomo and Stringer sent the signal that, in the very center of world finance, sentiment is turning sharply against fossil-fuel investing. Activists have urged divestment for what you might call moral reasons: if it’s wrong to wreck the planet, it’s wrong to profit from the wreckage. But pension funds are willing to divest because they’ve come to believe that the future is not about coal and oil and gas—that these are now on the decline. The future lies elsewhere…

Read the whole story here.

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