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An Extinction Rebellion protester holds up a placard saying "Divest from climate change" on October 14, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)

Study Shows Pension Funds' Refusal to Divest From Fossil Fuels Cost Retired Teachers, Firefighters, and Public Workers $19 Billion

"Fossil fuel companies are no longer wise long-term investment choices, and everyday Americans are feeling the sting."

Julia Conley

Amid global demands for immediate and bold climate action, a new economic analysis released Tuesday reveals that the pensions of working-class people are paying the price for continued investments in the same fossil fuel companies that are ruining the planet.

Toronto-based firm Corporate Knights revealed in a new study that three major state pension funds in California and Colorado lost over $19 billion collectively as a result of investments in fossil fuel industries over ten years.

"As long as PERA's money remains invested in the fossil fuel industry, that investment supports an industry that has willfully denied its role in climate change, accelerating today's climate crisis in favor of profits."
—Devon Reynolds, PERA member
CalSTRS and CalPERS, which represent nearly three million retired teachers, firefighters, police officers, and other public employees, lost out on more than $17 billion over a decade. Those losses came as the pension funds invested people's retirement savings in extractive industries, which are losing jobs and stock value as the renewable energy sector has added jobs in recent years.

The funds' members lost an average of $5,572 and $6,072 per person, respectively.

Colorado's pension fund for state retirees would have gained an additional $1.7 billion in value if it hadn't invested in fossil fuels, Corporate Knights reported, translating to a loss of nearly $3,000 per member.

The global grassroots movement 350.org urged those affected by fossil fuel investments to call for immediate divestment.

"These findings help show that fossil fuel companies are no longer wise long-term investment choices, and everyday Americans are feeling the sting," said 350.org in a statement.

For entities which are not moved to halt their investments in climate-warming fossil fuel emissions given the extreme weather, rising sea levels, and heatwaves fossil fuels are linked to, one Colorado public employee said, the news of billions of lost dollars may sway them.

"As long as PERA's money remains invested in the fossil fuel industry, that investment supports an industry that has willfully denied its role in climate change, accelerating today's climate crisis in favor of profits. For the sake of drowned Pacific islands, migrants fleeing drought, and future generations' lives, PERA must divest from fossil fuels," said Devon Reynolds, a member of PERA. "The Corporate Knights study makes that easier by showing they have billions of dollars to gain as well."

Under pressure from climate campaigners, institutions including churches, universities, Norway's sovereign wealth fund, and the country of Ireland have divested from the fossil fuel sector in recent years.

Managed assets pledged to divestment increased by 22,000 percent from 2014 to 2019, from $52 billion to $11.5 trillion.

On Wednesday, retired teachers in California plan to attend a CalSTRS meeting to demand answers about why the fund invested their retirement savings in fossil fuels.

As 350.org wrote, the pension funds have a number of questions in light of Corporate Knights' findings.

"Retirees and other members of CalPERS, CalSTRS, and Colorado's PERA might ask: 'Now that the fund managers know these fossil fuel investments are losing us money, what are they going to do about it?' said the group.


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