The concept of fossil fuel divestment is simple: it is the withdrawal of investments in the oil, coal, and gas companies that are destroying our climate. Although the superficial media coverage of fossil fuel divestment generally focuses on the wrong issue — that the amount of money involved will have no effect on the coal, oil, and gas companies — that is not the point.
While the moral imperative of not supporting these companies that are polluting our environment is the driving force, the real objective of the divestment movement is to expose and stigmatize these extractive companies for using their enormous wealth to influence legislators to pass laws to protect their corporate subsidies and tax breaks, while at the same time using their stranglehold on our political system to block our necessary transition to clean, renewable energy. In the current political primary season, we have heard volumes about the corrosive effect that “big” money has had on our democracy. The fossil fuel industry is the proverbial poster child for what is wrong with corporate money in politics.
Yet, despite the political power of “big” oil, gas, and coal, the divestment campaign has had many successes worldwide. From the Church of England to the pension fund of California to the Rockefeller Brothers to individual divestors, $3.4 trillion has been divested. Closer to home, Hampshire College has divested and Divest UMASS recently won an important victory in Amherst.
Few people know that an analysis done last year showed that the Massachusetts State Pension Fund (PRIT) lost $521 million in 2014 because of its investments in fossil fuels. The 350 Massachusetts Divestment Campaign, as part of the Mass Divest Coalition, has been working in support of a bill in the state Legislature submitted by Senator Downing and Representative Decker calling for the PRIT to divest all fossil fuel holdings over a five-year period and become the first state in the union to fully divest its pension fund. To support this effort, the coalition has helped 14 municipalities across the state (including Great Barrington), as well as numerous religious institutions and labor unions to pass resolutions calling for divestment. Once again, the power of the fossil fuel lobby has reared its head and blocked this bill. To learn more about how you can help the legislative effort to divest, click here.
So, the good news about fossil fuel divestment is that it is a financially prudent step to take. Over the past decade, fossil-fuel-free portfolios have done as well as or better than traditional portfolios, and investment in fossil fuels may be very risky going forward. In an effort to inform the public about the process of divestment, 350Mass-Berkshires is sponsoring a free panel presentation and discussion for individuals and organizations: Fossil Fuel Divestment for Everyone: A Forum on Divestment and Sustainable Reinvestment will be held on Saturday, May 21, from 10 a.m.- 11:30 a.m. at the Ralph Froio Senior Center, 330 North St., Pittsfield, Mass. Light refreshments will be served.
The four financial professionals on the panel (Karin Chamberlain, Clean Yield Asset Management, Norwich, Vt.; Lisa Hayles, Boston Common Asset Management, Boston; Harry Moran, Sustainable Wealth Advisors, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; and Libby O’Connell, Green Century Funds, Boston) will cover these topics: understanding the moral, political, and economic reasons for divestment; how to divest your personal investments of fossil fuel holdings; how employers can offer fossil fuel free options to employees; how divested money can be reinvested in sustainable agriculture and community projects and other strategies.