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Another Voice: State pensions need to divest from fossil fuels

By John Ingram

Will Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, his Decarbonization Advisory Panel and the fossil fuel industry be able to sideline divestment as the best strategy to a clean energy future, stronger pension funds, and a last ditch attempt to stop carbon emissions before it is too late?

It has become clear recently that some fossil fuel companies have revived “green-washing” as the more effective path in keeping their increasingly exposed industry afloat. They appear to have acknowledged that in the long term fossil fuels are no longer a viable business. Their new goal is to make sure that their term for selling oil, gas and their infrastructure will be as long as possible.

In their strategy shift they are counting on the financial hesitancy and political leanings of state workers. They are also counting on the gullibility of DiNapoli and his anti-divestment supporters.

Shell Oil announced in December that the company “acknowledges and agrees with the importance attached by its investors to the issue of climate change, and also agrees that Shell’s future success is contingent on its ability to effectively navigate the risks and the opportunities presented by climate change.”

Shell claims that it will incentivize executives with higher pay if they reduce carbon emissions. It claims to support the Paris climate accords and is planning in two years to set hard targets for emission reductions. It is promoting green tech ideas in many news outlets.

One might think that Shell has finally seen the light of renewables and is turning off the oil lamp. One might then ask how could activists be so “divisive” as to oppose such a change of mind? Shell’s media campaign with its green dreams puts the divestment movement in the difficult position of undermining its own goals by saying “too little, too late.”

Unfortunately, urgency is the dominant truth in climate change. We are at the mercy of the nature that we are altering, and nature says: “If you want a livable world stop the increase of fossil fuel emissions in two years and cut them in half in the next five.” This is a world of difference from Shell saying, “We will figure out our deadlines for emission reductions in two years.”

The value of fossil fuel assets has never been more precarious. With DiNapoli’s refusal to divest the average pensioner has already lost $17,000. The fossil fuel market is proving to be consistently volatile, an unstable foundation for pensions.

Let the worldwide declaration of “fossil free” do its work in forcing the energy industry to change without delay. A slow deal is no deal for New York and the world. Divest New York State pension funds from fossil fuels now.

John Ingram is a climate activist with 350NYC and Divest New York State.

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