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Remembering Sandy's Wrath, New Yorkers Demand Massive Fossil Fuel Divestment

"Our lives on this earth are a gift, and it's not right for us to profit from an industry whose core business is devastating to the climate and to life itself."

The devastation at Breezy Point, New York after Superstorm Sandy in 2012. (Photo: Zoriah/cc/flickr)

The devastation at Breezy Point, New York after Superstorm Sandy in 2012. (Photo: Zoriah/cc/flickr)

Just ahead of the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, a broad spectrum of New Yorkers are asking that the state's public pensions stop investing in the companies causing such climate chaos.

In an open letter (pdf) addressed to New York City comptroller Scott Stringer and state comptroller Tom DiNapoli, 18 individuals representing a wide swathe of New York society—from environment and health to faith and the arts—call on the six city and state public pension funds to divest from the fossil fuel industry and, alternately, prioritize investments in climate solutions.

"This past summer, New Yorkers experienced record heat, with extreme heat warnings issued on numerous days...Nearly four years ago, on October 29, 2012, New York and surrounding areas were hit with one of the most devastating storms of the century, marking a destructive high note in the increasing number of extreme weather events New Yorkers have recently endured due to climate change," reads the letter, signed by 350.org found Bill McKibben, renowned climate scientist Dr. Michael E. Mann, and Zakaria Kronemer, national organizer for the Responsible Endowments Coalition, among others.

Further, it states, "[t]he burden of climate impacts caused by the fossil fuel industry falls disproportionately on working class New Yorkers, low-income and Indigenous communities, and communities of color who have contributed the least to the crisis."

"Unless our institutions divest from coal, oil, and gas companies, and stop propping up the industry perpetuating climate change, we will be unable to address the undue influence that this industry has on our economy and our democracy."

"Unless our institutions divest from coal, oil, and gas companies, and stop propping up the industry perpetuating climate change, we will be unable to address the undue influence that this industry has on our economy and our democracy," the signatories continue. Specifically, the letter, sent late last week, asks the comptrollers to:

  1. Immediately stop any new investments in the top 200 fossil fuel companies,
  2. Drop coal, oil and gas from your investment portfolio by divesting from the top 200 fossil fuel companies by 2020, and
  3. Commit to and prioritize reinvesting at least 5 percent of your portfolio into climate solutions defined as, but not limited to, renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean technology, community adaptation funds, transit, and clean energy access

As signatory Vanessa Green, director of the Individual campaign with divestment resource Divest-Invest, explained, inaction or delayed action on divestment puts millions of public employees at risk three times over: "once via bad investments in companies deepening the climate problem, twice via exposure to the life-threatening harm of extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy, and thrice via potential retirement fund losses."

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Indeed, a report issued earlier this year from the watchdog Corporate Knights found that the $189.4 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund (NYS-CRF) lost at least $5.3 billion over the past three years by maintaining in the top 200 coal, oil, and gas companies.

And as Green and other signatories pointed out, wider planetary losses will also precipitate as continued investment in coal, oil and gas companies only further entrenches the fossil fuel economy, making the goals set forth in the Paris climate agreement less attainable.

"In order to avoid catastrophic climate change, significant shifts need to be made as we speak towards a renewable future," said Rebecca Foon and Jesse Paris Smith, co-founders of the Pathway to Paris coalition. "New York City and New York State have an immense opportunity to help lead this path towards a future that is no longer dependant on fossil fuels, while stimulating the green economy by divesting its pension funds from fossil fuel companies and investing in climate solutions. The time is now."

"Our lives on this earth are a gift," added Rev. Fletcher Harper, executive director of GreenFaith, "and it's not right for us to profit from an industry whose core business is devastating to the climate and to life itself. The time to divest is yesterday. It cannot happen too soon."

To coincide with the letter, 350.org New York launched a petition so that New York citizens may add their names to the call for divestment.

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