Fossil Fuel Divestment has been in the news recently as a coalition of groups has been asking State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to sell off oil, gas and coal investments in the State Common Retirement Fund (SCRF). In July, the State announced that the SCRF divested from over 20 thermal coal companies. Although a step in the right direction, this is a drop in the bucket for a state that claims to be a leader in fighting climate change.
The demand to divest NY pension funds started 8 years ago as a response to Hurricane Sandy, which devastated New York City. In that time, universities in the state such as Syracuse, SUNY New Paltz, and Cornell have divested their sizeable endowment funds. But the State Comptroller has not budged to date on oil and gas investments.
Why is divestment so important? As SUNY New Paltz President Donald Christian said “This divestment from fossil fuels is the right thing to do. Climate change resulting from the use of fossil fuels presents issues of significant concern to all.” Divestment works by depressing the value of the stock and the net worth of the company, which in turn significantly raises the cost of borrowing capital for investment in new infrastructure projects like fracking wells, pipelines, and petrochemical plants dedicated to plastic production.
Divestment works by depressing the value of the stock and the net worth of the company, which in turn significantly raises the cost of borrowing capital for investment in new infrastructure projects like fracking wells, pipelines, and petrochemical plants dedicated to plastic production.
Because divestment works on the price of the stock, it also depresses the net worth of any investment portfolio with oil and gas stocks. After spending decades as the most profitable corporation on the planet, Exxon Mobil was recently dropped from the S&P 500 index. This is indicative of the price drops of all the major oil stocks. Research done in 2018 by Corporate Knights, a sustainable business magazine, shows that the SCRF would be $22.2 BILLION richer if the state had divested 10 years ago.
Recently, a petition with more than 1,000 scientists and academic professionals was delivered to the Comptroller’s office urging that the state divests the SCRF from all fossil fuels. In addition, the NYS Legislature is considering the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act (S2126-A/A1536-A), which would require the Comptroller to divest from all fossil fuel holdings within 5 years.
Closer to home, a student group calling themselves Fossil Free UB has been urging the University at Buffalo and the UB Foundation to divest “for the sake of ecological sustainability and social justice, to join other universities and colleges to FREEZE any new investments in fossil fuels, DIVEST from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within 5 years, and REINVEST in clean energy and socially responsible alternatives”.
Governments at every level (including the City of Buffalo and Erie County) could benefit from a review of its investment portfolio and divesting from fossil fuel investments. It’s not often that we can save the planet and profit from it at the same time. Please contact your local representative and urge them to support this bill.
Lead image: Coal industry – photo by Dominik Vanyi