John Boehner, Wayne LaPierre: essentially guys devoted to making sure nothing ever changes. It's painful just to look at. So, meet Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, henceforth known as Santa Claus to the environmental movement.
Earlier today he announced that city funds would never be invested in fossil fuel companies again, and urged the city's pension fund to divest. This is a powerful political statement: it is the leader of one our biggest cities (a clty tied to the nation's and the world's economic future) declaring that he doesn't want to be tied up with the dirty energy companies bent on wrecking our future.
It made me proud that he cited the Rolling Stone article I wrote last summer explaining why the fossil fuel companies are the bad guys in this fight--I'm glad it has 121,000 likes on Facebook, but much gladder it's helping change policy. But the real factor was the outpouring of people determined to stand up to Exxon et al. We kicked off our DotheMath tour in Seattle, with Mayor McGinn up on stage--he saw the huge sold-out crowd at one of the city's biggest concert halls, and he knew that this movement would have his back if he did the right thing.
We've got 192 college campuses now with active divestment fights. Every one of them will know about this soon, and it will give them heart. And now we've got a template for activists in every city around the country and soon the world. Mayor McGinn, you're a hero.
Here's the account of McGinn's bold decision from gofossilfree.org, which is the hub of the emerging divestment movement. And here's the text of his statement:
To the members of the Seattle City Employees’ Retirement System Board:
I write to you today to ask that you refrain from future investments in fossil fuel companies and begin the process of divesting our pension portfolio from those companies. I recognize that this process will require a thorough evaluation of the portfolio’s performance, assets, and investment strategies. City staff stand ready to assist you in this work.
Climate change is one of the most important challenges we currently face as a city and as a society. We have watched in recent weeks as weather influenced by climate change has caused significant damage and financial losses to cities and states on the East Coast. The projections suggest that the problem could get much worse. According to Bill McKibben and 350.org, 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.
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. 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. In addition, I am asking the Deferred Compensation Plan Committee to develop options for City employees to allow them to move their investments out of fossil fuel companies if desired, and to offer fossil fuel free investment choices to them refrain from future investments in fossil fuel.
The City of Seattle’s finance director informs me that two of the system’s top 10 investments are with ExxonMobil and Chevron. The pension system has currently $17.6 million invested with these two firms, which represents roughly 0.9% of the system’s $1.9 billion in assets. I understand that it is likely the system has investments in other fossil fuel-related entities as well.
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.
I believe that Seattle’s pension funds should be invested in companies that can provide a good return on our investment without putting our city and our future at risk. I am ready to work with the City Council and the pension board to make this happen.
Mayor of Seattle