Fossil Fuel Divestment
On November 18, 2012, the cofounders of 350MoCo attended 350.org’s Do The Math event in Washington, D.C. They were inspired by Bill McKibben’s call for fossil fuel divestment, modeled after the historic South African divestment movement of the 1980’s. During his speech that day McKibben said, “If it is wrong to wreck the climate it is wrong to profit from that wreckage”. Based on those inspiring words 350MoCo was born. 350MoCo has been working to divest Montgomery County’s pension and healthcare funds ever since. In May of 2017 the County Council passed a resolution urging that these funds be divested. This was a major victory but the struggle to achieve divestment continues. We haven’t forgotten the issue that brought our group together and we won’t stop fighting for a Fossil Free MoCo!
What is the problem?
Scientists say we must limit global warming to 2°C if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change. To meet this goal, we can burn only 565 gigatons more carbon dioxide. But the fossil fuel industry has 2,765 gigatons of carbon in their reserves – nearly 5 times the safe amount – and every day they’re searching for more. Simply put, their “business plan” is incompatible with a livable planet.
What is fossil fuel divestment?
Divestment is the process of pulling investments from fossil fuel companies (i.e., oil & gas and coal producers) in order to cease capitalizing the destruction of the planet. It’s also a tactic for fighting the forces standing in the way of climate change mitigation efforts.
Why are we advocating divestment?
Political reason: The fossil fuel industry has overwhelming and disproportionate influence in Congress, preventing our 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, making our members of Congress more reluctant to side with them to block the pro-climate legislation that we need passed. Divestment was the strategy that Nelson Mandela said was pivotal in ending apartheid in South Africa.
Moral reason: The United Nations has called climate change “an existential threat to human existence,” and yet the fossil fuel industry’s business plan calls for as much exploration for and development of fossil fuels as possible. This is just immoral. At a certain point, we have to say that we will not be a part of this.
Economic reason: Eventually, as the climate worsens, the burning of carbon will have to be curtailed. Most known fossil fuel reserves will need to remain in the ground, becoming “stranded assets.” But stocks are valued based upon full exploitation. This makes investments in this industry look much less attractive.
What is 350MoCo doing towards the goal of divestment?
Thanks to lots of work by 350MoCo and our allies, a fossil fuel divestment bill (Bill 44-16) came before the County Council in October 2015. We fought hard for the bill, but it was ultimately held up in committee. Instead the Council passed Resoution 18-804. It directs the boards of the Montgomery County Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and Consolidated Retiree Health Benefits Trust (CRHBT) to use their existing Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) policies to divest fossil fuel holdings as much as possible under their fiduciary duties. We are organizing to push the boards to learn more about options for divestment, and to keep up pressure from our Council allies on the boards so that they act on the resolution and sell off fossil fuel companies.
Will Montgomery County lose money if it divests?
No. Not only does the lawrequire fiduciary duty to take first priority, but study after study has shown that divestment does not sacrifice rate of return. It also is the more prudent approach, since the industry is likely to have stranded assets.