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Natural Awakenings Washington DC Metro

Fossil fuel divestment campaigns thriving in D.C. Region

Sep 04, 2014 01:02AM
by Jeffrey Weisner

The world’s carbon-based economies have a problem. Scientists saywe must limit global warming to 2°C to avoid catastrophic climate change. To meet this goal, we can burn only 565 gigatons more carbon. But the fossil fuel industry has 2,765 gigatons of carbon in their proven reserves—nearly five times the threshold amount—and every day they are searching for more. Simply put, their “business plan”is incompatible with a livable planet.

350 Montgomery County (350MoCo) has joined thenational campaign spearheaded by 350.org, led by environmental writer-scholar Bill McKibben, aimed at doing something about this through divestment—the process of pulling institutional investments (here, the MoCo retired employees pension fund) from fossil fuel companies (such as oil and gas or coal producers) in order to cease capitalizing the destruction of the planet.

Why divestment? First, it can pack a much-needed political punch.The fossil fuel industry has overwhelming and disproportionate influence in Congress, preventing elected officials from passing laws that would address climate change by placing a price on carbon pollution.

As more and more local governments, universities, and religious institutions choose to divest, the industry will be increasingly stigmatized, creating the political space needed to get climate change legislation passed—meaningless fossil fuels and more solar and other clean renewables.

Nelson Mandela said divestment was pivotal in ending apartheidin South Africa, and it can succeedheretoo. Various institutions, including Stanford University, the University of Dayton, and the Unitarian Universalists USA have made commitments this year alone, while Massachusetts and the District of Columbia (led by D.C. Divest) have pending legislation with many sponsors, to divest their employee pension funds. The momentum is growing and world leaders from Archbishop Desmond Tutu to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim are calling for it.

Divestment also makes economic sense. As the climate worsens, the burning of carbon will have to be curtailed. While stocks are valued based on full exploitation, most known fossil fuel reserves will need to remain in the ground, becoming “stranded assets.” This makes stock prices in this industry potentially greatly overvalued.

Will Montgomery County lose money if it divests? No. Not only do studies make clear that divestment doesn’t sacrifice rate of return, the prospect of those stranded assets makes divestment the more prudent approach.

And there’s a moral reason too. The U.N. has called climate change “an existential threat to human existence,” and yet theindustry’s business plan calls for as much exploration for and development of fossil fuels as possible.It’s time to say we will not be a part of this.

350MoCoissponsoring a petitionurging the county council and county executive to direct the Board of Investment Trustees to make no new investments in the fossil fuel industry and divest the pension funds it overseesof all holdings in the 200 largest publicly traded fossil fuel companies—currentlymore than $112 million (and mostly paid for by MoCo taxpayers)—within five years.

Formed in April 2014, 350MoCohas hit the ground running, attending climate action events, collecting signatures for their petition, meeting with local leaders, and increasing their base of support. Their divestment coalitionis growing and includes the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the Sierra Club (MoCo), Environment Maryland and others. If you are one of the growing number of people in Montgomery County who realize how important climate change action is and wish you could be involved, this could be your chance!

For more details and to sign the 350MoCo petition, visit 350moco.org.

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