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Board of Aldermen set to vote on fossil fuel divestment

Posted by boston.com  March 11, 2014 10:00 AM

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The following was submitted by Fossil Free Somerville: 

In response to a petition signed by 129 registered Somerville voters, the City of Somerville?s Board of Aldermen has announced a public hearing to discuss a resolution urging the City to divest its pension funds from fossil fuel companies. The hearing, scheduled for Thursday March 13 at 6:00 p.m., marks the culmination of a yearlong effort led by Fossil Free Somerville, the community group who organized the petition effort. 

The proposed resolution urges the Somerville Retirement Board to immediately cease any new investments in fossil fuel companies, and fully divest from direct holdings and commingled funds within five years. While the decision of whether or not to divest ultimately rests with the retirement board, approval by the Board of Aldermen would communicate democratic, grassroots support for the strategy.

This local effort represents one front in the wider Fossil Free campaign, which has supported divestment campaigns at a variety of scales. 

The Somerville residents who signed the petition hope the City will join a growing list of universities, foundations, faith based organizations, and cities that have committed to fossil fuel divestment. Inspired by the journalist and environmental activist Bill McKibben?s ?Do the Math? tour, the divestment movement seeks to challenge the social license of fossil fuel companies, whose business model fundamentally threatens the Earth?s climate by exacerbating climate change.

Eric Fields, a Winter Hill resident and Fossil Free Somerville member, argues that ?to be invested in fossil fuel companies is to support, profit from, and even take ownership in continuing climate change. It deeply entangles our public institutions with the industry that is destroying the planet.? To borrow a phrase from McKibben, if it?s wrong to wreck the climate then it?s wrong to profit from that wreckage.

While arguments for divestment rely in part on a moral impetus, one can also make a sound financial argument supporting the strategy. An analysis crafted by the Aperio Group, a leading investment management firm, estimated the additional risk to fossil free investors to be a negligible 0.01%. 

Other recent reports, including one commissioned by the Greens/European Free Alliance (EFA) Group of the European Parliament, warn of a ?carbon bubble,? a market bubble caused by large sections of stocks being valued based on profits that cannot be realized if we take climate change seriously. Far from a fringe movement, fossil fuel divestment is supported by both the President of the World Bank, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, and Christiana Figueres, chief of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

In the past decade, Somerville has committed itself to making a long-term commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship. If the City hopes to live up to this ideal, citizens and elected officials alike must reject continued complicity and commit themselves to combating climate change in full measure. 

The unabated extraction and burning of fossil fuels poses extreme risk to the global climate and world economy. In his 2014 inaugural address, Mayor Joe Curtatone urged the audience to ?advocate together for the City?s retirement system to divest from fossil fuels.? Join us this coming Thursday in the aldermanic chambers at Somerville City Hall (93 Highland Ave), and make your voice heard.

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