Students at New York University picked up the ball with their campaign and called on NYU President John Sexton to reinvest the school’s endowment money in solutions to climate change. It’s an issue that likely hits closer to home for them post-Hurricane Sandy. Administrators cancelled classes for weeks after the superstorm left students without power and heat.
HOWEVER, in December Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn sent a letter to the city’s two chief pension funds formally requesting that they “refrain from future investments in fossil fuel companies and begin the process of divesting our pension portfolio from those companies.”
“Climate change is one of the most important challenges we currently face as a city and as a society,” wrote Mayor McGinn in a letter to the Seattle City Employees’ Retirement System (SCERS) Board and the City of Seattle Voluntary Deferred Compensation Plan Committee. “I believe that Seattle ought to discourage these companies from extracting that fossil fuel, and divesting the pension fund from these companies is one way we can do that.”Along with encouraging the pension funds to divest, Mayor McGinn also committed to making sure that city funds stay out of the fossil fuel industry, writing, “The City’s cash pool is not currently invested in fossil fuel companies, and I already directed that we refrain from doing so in the future.”Valued at $1.9 billion, SCERS is also the largest investment portfolio yet to consider fossil fuel divestment. While the full value of SCERS fossil fuel investments is still unknown, according to the city’s finance director, the system currently has $17.6 million invested in ExxonMobil and Chevron, which represents roughly 0.9% of the system’s assets. (3)Seattle is the first city in the nation to join the growing Go Fossil Free divestment campaign, an effort that has quickly spread to over 192 campuses across the country and is now moving off campus to cities and states.Mayor McGinn helped launch this new divestment movement on November 7, at the kick-off event for the “Do The Math” tour, a 21-city roadshow put on by the international climate campaign 350.org to connect the dots between extreme weather, climate change, and the fossil fuel industry. Standing in-front of 2,000 cheering Seattle residents, Mayor McGinn committed to look into divesting city funds from the industry–on Friday, he made good on his word.“Mayor McGinn deserves great credit for being a pioneer,” said 350.org founder and Bill McKibben, who has helped spearhead the new divestment movement. “Sandy was a reminder of just how much our cities have at stake from climate change–standing up to the fossil fuel companies isn’t easy, but it’s much easier than standing up to an ever-rising ocean.”In his letter to the pension boards, Mayor McGinn highlighted the threat climate change poses to Seattle and the reasons why divestment was both the moral and responsible thing to do.“There is a clear economic argument for divestment,” wrote McGinn. “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.”
The fossil fuel industry isn’t going down without a fight. Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute—which has received more than $600,000 from Exxon Mobile since 1998—wrote an op-ed criticizing the movement that appeared in the Wall Street Journal. The Journalfailed to disclose his ties to the industry.