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Fossil Fuel Divestment

by Anna Cerosaletti

Junior at Penfield High School

on behalf of the PHS Environmental Club

Divesting public pensions from the fossil fuel industry is critical in the fight against climate change. We know how detrimental fossil fuels are to the planet, so it seems intuitive that you would want to cut all support for that industry in order to aid the transition to clean energy. Not only is it immoral to invest in an industry that spreads climate mis-information and is destroying the planet, it is also a terrible financial investment as the fossil fuel industry is doing increasingly worse in the market. According to a study done by Corporate Knights in 2018, the NYS common retirement fund would be 22 billion dollars richer if it had divested from fossil fuels 10 years earlier. Despite this, Comptroller DiNapoli, who is the sole trustee of the NYS common retirement fund, has resisted divesting the fund ignoring the activist push from the DivestNY Coalition. In response to DiNapoli’s opposition, a bill called the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act was introduced to the state legislature that would require the Comptroller to divest from coal holdings in two years and oil and gas holdings in five. Thanks to more recent involvement of the New York Youth Climate Leaders the legislation is very close to passing in both the New York Assembly and Senate, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made it a lot harder to get bills to be brought up to a vote.

In recent news, Comptroller DiNapoli has announced his divestment from 22 coal companies. While this is not all of the fossil fuel holdings it is a huge step in the right direction. The goal of the Divest NY campaign has always been to get the Comptroller to divest on his own, rather than to force him to through a piece of legislation. In a recent interview with Evan Dawson on WXXI, two of the NY Youth Climate Leaders spoke with Comptroller DiNapoli and discussed divestment with him. This is a very interesting interview since activists don’t get much of a chance to talk directly to DiNapoli, especially not on public radio. An article in Waging Nonviolence also discusses this recent development in the divestment campaign. Despite this win, the common retirement fund still has a great number of investments in the fossil fuel industry and the fight is not over. You can help by signing the DivestNY petition on their website.

Divestment isn’t only for state employees. Individuals can consider Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors when investing their own money. Learn more about ESG investments here. A study done at Harvard Business School in 2014 shows that this decision will likely be a boost to retirement savings, that “High Sustainability companies significantly outperform their counterparts over the long-term, both in terms of stock market as well as accounting performance.” A good financial advisor is ready to help people make the switch to ESG funds when they are ready.

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