Ten U.S. Cities Pledge to Divest from Fossil Fuel Companies

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, who last November pledged to divest his city's pension from fossil fuel companies and now is encouraging other cities to do the same.

The mayors and city councils of ten U.S. cities have joined a burgeoning national movement by committing to divest their pension funds from the 200 largest fossil fuel companies because of the industry's responsibility for climate change.

"Divestment is just one of the steps we can take to address the climate crisis," said Mayor Mike McGinn of Seattle, a former Sierra Club state chair who last November became the first mayor to urge his city's pension fund to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

Now he's encouraging other cities to do the same.

"Cities that will be leaders in creating a new model for quality of life, environmental sustainability and economic success," said McGinn. "We've got a head start on that here in Seattle, but there's a lot more work to do."

Joining Seattle in pursuing divestment from fossil fuels are Madison, Wis., Bayfield, Wis., Ithaca, N.Y., Boulder, Colo., Rochester, Minn., Eugene, Ore., Richmond, Calif., Berkeley, Calif., and San Francisco, where this week the city's Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to urge the city's $16 billion pension fund to divest over $583 million from the fossil fuel industry.

Announced yesterday in Seattle, the city and state divestment campaign is led by the Mayors Innovation Project and 350.org, an international climate campaign that has also encouraged colleges and universities to divest their endowments from fossil fuel companies.

"Today's announcement sends a powerful message to the fossil fuel industry: if you're going to try and take away our planet, we're going to try and take away your money," Jay Carmona, who leads 350.org's divestment campaign, wrote in a message to the organization's mailing list. "We're no longer just playing defense against dirty projects like the Keystone XL pipeline, we're going on offense, too."

In Richmond, the divestment campaign has particular resonance. Long regarded as a "company town" because of its close ties to the Chevron Corporation, Richmond is home to the Chevron Richmond Refinery, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California and a major contributor to respiratory problems among the city's more than 100,000 residents.

"Richmond is home to the second largest oil refinery and largest point source of greenhouse gas emissions in California," said Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin. "I am proud to join with other cities in this divestment campaign, as we divest from an industry that is wreaking havoc on our community and planet, and reinvest in a clean energy economy with new jobs for our residents."

The proposition that climate change is occurring as a result of human activity has been a matter of overwhelming scientific consensus for several years. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences has issued a consensus statement to the effect that climate changes are being observed, seem to be increasing, and humans are most likely the cause of all or most of the changes.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending apartheid in South Africa, has endorsed the fossil fuel divestment campaign.

Science academies from Brazil, Canada, China, France, India, Japan, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom and several other countries have issued similar consensus statements.

The fossil fuel divestment campaign is modeled on the anti-apartheid campaigns of the 1980s that helped end institutional racism in South Africa. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending apartheid, has endorsed 350.org's divestment campaign.

"The divestment movement played a key role in helping liberate South Africa. The corporations understood the logics of money even when they weren't swayed by the dictates of morality," said Tutu. "Climate change is a deeply moral issue too, of course... Once again, we can join together as a world and put pressure where it counts."

According to 350.org, divestment petitions are already up and running in 100 other cities across the country.

"It's so fitting that American cities are taking the lead in the fight to weaken the fossil fuel industry's political power," said Bill McKibben, a prominent environmentalist and founder of 350.org. "Since every city public works department is already spending scads of cash to deal with the gathering storms and rising seas climate change is bringing, it's clear it makes no sense for them to also prop up the industries that make it necessary."

In the coming months, 350.org, the Mayors Innovation Project, and other partners will continue to encourage more cities and states across the country join the movement, with the goal of convincing some of the largest pension funds in the United States to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

In her email to 350.org's subscribers, Carmona said the divestment campaign "sends an... important message to other cities and institutions: if it's wrong to wreck the planet, then it's also wrong to profit from that wreckage."

More information on the divestment campaign can be found at GoFossilFree.org.

Image credits: Mayor McGinn, Flickr; Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, Flickr.