Why coal divestment is important

Coal plantOur goal at 350 Bay Area is to reduce investments in all fossil fuels—coal, oil, and gas—and to publicize their destructive effects. But some institutions, resistant to total divestment, are willing to consider divesting only from coal. Is that a position we can support? Emphatically yes!

A giant step

Divesting from coal is a giant step toward total divestment. We would certainly prefer divestment from oil and gas companies too. But Stanford's decision last year to purge its $18 billion endowment of coal stocks, for example, was an enormous victory, and the university also pledged that it would review additional divestment. San Francisco State has also divested from coal—and from tar sands as well—and promised to look into "removing all future investments in fossil fuels."

The question has come up again in the context of Senate Bill 185, Senator Kevin de León's proposed legislation which directs CalPERS and CalSTRS to divest from coal. The bill also mandates that the funds study the feasibility of divesting "additional fossil fuel investments such as natural gas and petroleum." In other words, SB185 explicitly frames coal divestment as a potential first step toward total fossil fuel divestment.

Too much pollution

But it's more than merely a step. Purging portfolios of coal stocks is a victory in itself, because it is much more polluting than oil or gas. To produce a million British thermal units (Btu) of energy, anthracite coal spews 229 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Gasoline emits 157 pounds to produce the same amount of energy, and natural gas just 117. These differences result from the varying ratios of molecular hydrogen (clean) and carbon (dirty). If we can prohibit only one type of fossil fuel, coal is an excellent choice.

And those pernicious effects don't stop with CO2 and global warming. Dr. Linda Rudolph, a preventive medicine physician and member of Fossil Free California, describes its other effects on public health:

Coal combustion releases a toxic soup of chemicals such as nitrogen oxides that contribute to smog, mercury, and particulate matter that together damage the respiratory, cardiovascular, and nervous systems and contribute to heart disease, cancer, stroke, asthma, and chronic lower respiratory disease. Hundreds of thousands of children are born in the U.S. each year with blood mercury levels high enough to cause lifelong loss of intelligence. Coal is harmful to health in every part of its life cycle—from black lung disease and fatal injuries in mining, to flooding and water contamination from surface mining, to particulate matter pollution in coal transport, and coal ash contamination of wells and rivers.

A bad investment

Furthermore, in pure financial terms, coal companies have already proven themselves a bad investment. Over the last four years, for example, the Market Vectors Coal ETF, a global index fund, has fallen from 51.87 to 13.59, plunging almost 75 percent.

Even investors who are insensitive to the climatic and health dangers are beginning to see that there is no future in these companies. For instance, the value of Alpha Natural Resources has fallen so far, the New York Stock Exchange notified it last week that its stock is now below the permissible listing price threshold. And banking giant HSBC recently warned its clients that coal reserves are in grave danger of becoming stranded assets, along with oil and gas. Since coal constitutes over two-thirds of fossil fuel reserves (click on the Fossil Free Indexes chart to enlarge), it will of necessity take the greatest financial hit.

Is it a good idea to support coal divestment? Emphatically yes!

Cross-posted at Fossil Free California.

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Fossil Free California is launched!

We launched Fossil Free California on Global Divestment Day, February 13, 2015, in Sacramento. Divestment activists from 350 Bay Area, 350 Sacramento, and other Northern California groups gathered at CalPERS headquarters to urge CalPERS and CalSTRS to stop investing in fossil fuels and to sell their Old Energy investments within five years.

The campaign begins!

The rally included a bit of street theater: scientists faced off against Big Oil, and divestment activists saved the day—and saved the Earth, who was feeling somewhat battered and fracked.

There were also three stirring speeches. You can read them here:

Add your voice to the campaign: sign the petition to purge state retirement portfolios of coal, oil, and gas.

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Global Divestment Day in Sacramento

Sacramento anti-fracking rallyOn February 13 at 12 noon, we will launch the Fossil Free California campaign with a rally in Sacramento. It's Global Divestment Day, and we're joining people around the world to urge pension funds, universities, cities and states, faith groups, and other institutions to divest from Old Energy.

Significant decisions are made in Sacramento. We were there at Jerry Brown's inauguration to protest his support of fracking (photo). We will be there next month to demand divestment. 

Some of the largest fossil fuel investments in the world are held by the two California state pension funds, California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS). Their influence is enormous, with more than 20 billion dollars in coal, oil, and gas holdings. The boards of both funds have recognized the dangers of climate change and risks associated with Old Energy investments, and we are urging them to take the next step: purge their portfolios completely of these dangerous, dirty stocks and bonds.

Our rally will be held in front of the CalPERS building at 400 Q Street. A few minutes of street theater — a scientist facing off against an intransigent oil executive — will be followed by members of CalPERS and CalSTRS speaking about the importance of divestment. It's important morally, since no one wants to see her pension money used to create an uninhabitable planet. It's important financially, too, since fossil fuel companies face an uncertain future, as people increasingly recognize the destructive force of their products.

"If it's wrong to wreck the climate," as Bill McKibben once said, "then it's wrong to profit from that wreckage."

So join us in Sacramento if you can. If you can't be there, you have a choice of many other ways to demonstrate your support:

And here's something you can do today, whether you're a member of CalSTRS or CalPERS or simply a California resident concerned that state money is being used improperly. Sign our petition now, and help us call on the state pension funds to pledge complete divestment from coal, oil, and gas companies.

Photo: David Braun
Cross-posted at Fossil Free California

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Is gas too cheap?

Old energyIf you filled up your car in California this week, you probably noticed it didn't cost much. Gasoline is a bargain, on average just $3.06 a gallon across the state. Even in high-priced San Francisco, it's cheap: $3.24, and falling fast. Compare this to the statewide average of $4.26 a gallon six months ago, and it's no wonder you noticed.

Supply and demand

There are lots of reasons for this surprising development, but it boils down mainly to a simple matter of supply and demand. The market is awash in new sources of oil, from the fracking boom in North Dakota to production increases in Russia, Iraq, and Libya. Also, the OPEC cartel was unable to agree on production cuts last week, so its large share of world output remains large.

But increasing supply is only half the story. Demand is down, too. The global economy is still ailing. Vehicle efficiency continues to improve. Some hedge-fund managers have pulled back from their too-optimistic investments in oil. Japan is moving back to nuclear power and needs less oil.

So gas is cheap in California, and the oil companies are suffering—a bit. They will suffer more in the future, since this mismatch of supply and demand is likely to recur, though not for precisely the same reasons. If you buy oil company stock now, you're buying high, and you will eventually have to sell low. That's reason enough to divest.

Not as cheap as it seems

But there are even more compelling reasons to sell your shares in oil companies—and to encourage CalPERS and CalSTRS to sell too. 

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Reasons to divest

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Teachers to CalSTRS: Divest now!

CalSTRSJane Vosburg is a member of the California State Teachers' Retirement System who campaigns for divestment with 350 Sonoma County and Educators for Fossil Free Divestment. On November 7, she spoke to the CalSTRS Investment Committee meeting in West Sacramento.

Thank you for allowing me this time to comment, and thank you, Sharon Hendricks and Paul Rosenstiel, for requesting educational guest speakers to be a part of CalSTRS' focus this year on sustainability. Finally, thank you, Jack Ehnes, for inviting Al Gore, David Blood, and Tom Steyer to February’s meeting. 

We are living in unprecedented times. Last week the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change issued its fifth report, laying out the dire, irreversible consequences of global warming if we fail to reduce carbon emissions now. This September, the $860 million Rockefeller Foundation—who owes its very existence to oil—announced its divestment from fossil fuel, and last week UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon stated that he has "been urging companies like pension funds or insurance companies to reduce their investments in a fossil-fuel based economy [and shift] to renewable sources of energy."  And all this takes place while humanity stays on course for raising the global temperature by 6 degrees Celsius, which would make the planet uninhabitable. These are indeed unprecedented times.

We CalSTRS investors urge you, the Investment Committee, to support a reasonable resolution to immediately freeze any new investments in the fossil fuel industry and sell all other such funds over a period of five years.

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Urge CalPERS to divest!

This post is by Elise Miller of San Mateo, a CalPERS member. To join Elise in petitioning the CalPERS board to divest, click here. 
CalPERS atrium

In 1998, I retired from San Diego State University and as a state employee for 16 years, became a proud member of CalPERS, the California Public Employees' Retirement System—at $301 billion, one of the largest such funds in the nation. Today, I was stunned and saddened to find out that my pension money is funding oil, gas, and coal and blocking the transition to renewable energy.

I recently read in the CalPERS newsletter that my retirement fund has a set of "investment beliefs." I was pleased to see that environmental and climate issues were among its concerns.

Why was I especially pleased? When my children were in elementary school, I began to write letters to corporations and elected officials about preserving the environment. In those days, we talked about "pollution"—air, water, land. The most global we got was the Rainforest Action Network and anti-nuclear protests in the 1970s and 1980s. That was working for the future—my children’s future. 

Suddenly, it is the future. As my children and their friends meet the challenges of their thirties, all our environmental issues are global and the last calendar page has been torn off.

Climate change is the most pressing issue of our time, bar none. War? Racism? Income inequality? All urgent, but I am learning that climate change does not affect everyone equally, and so it is also a social justice issue. Problems bundled together are easier to attack, and my own attack now begins against unethical, dangerous fossil fuel investment, and climate change.

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Cutting carbon is good business

Green businessBloomberg News reports that companies serious about climate change have outperformed the wider market by 10 percent over the last five years. CDP, a UK nonprofit, tracks hundreds of companies and grades them "based on how aggressively they are setting and meeting carbon goals, and on how forthcoming they are about this work":

CDP's Carbon Performance Leadership Index (CPLI) is composed of companies that lead their peers in managing and reporting the carbon pollution from their own operations and supply chains.... In the five years since the CPLI first launched, the index beat both the Bloomberg World Index, which tracks the largest companies across sectors by market value, and the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index.

In short, reducing the use of carbon is good business, and many companies are helping their bottom line while helping the planet. CDP calculates that the return on investment of carbon reduction activities is 33 percent, providing a complete payback for green costs in just three years. 

Many businesspeople mistakenly believe that spending money to move from carbon-based to renewable energy hurts their profits. CDP demonstrates that the reverse is true: green business is profitable business.

It might seem, on the basis of this report, that those of us in the climate movement would do better to encourage Chevron and Peabody Coal to diversify and reduce their carbon footprint rather than to work for divestment. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

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UC profits from fossil fuels

dirty uc campanileThis post by Kathy Barnhart was originally published in Berkeleyside. Kathy is a UC alum from the class of 1968 who is active with the Fossil Free UC campaign.

It doesn’t make sense for the University of California to hold millions of dollars of stock in the fossil fuel industry and at the same time espouse a goal of carbon neutrality by 2025. Students at UC Berkeley and throughout the UC system have demanded that the Regents vote to divest from their stock in fossil fuel companies. On Sept.17, 2014, the Regents ignored their wishes.

In a hasty process involving only four one-hour meetings over the summer, a task force on Fossil Fuel Investments/Sustainable Investing, comprised of staff, Regents, two students, faculty and investment advisors made its recommendation to the Committee on Investments at the Regents Meeting at UCSF. Against the students’ wishes, divestment was not included in the recommendation. Only at the last minute, at the insistence of Fossil Free UC and its supporters, was language against divestment taken out of the recommendation.

The University of California holds $3 billion in the top 200 dirtiest fossil fuel companies out of a $90 billion endowment. One-half billion dollars of that is in coal, an “asset” that has been dropping in value.

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Join us to fight Big Oil!

big_oilJoin us as we sound the alarm for divestment from oil companies — and from coal and natural gas too! We call for institutions and individuals to stop buying stocks and bonds of companies that are destroying the climate with CO— and to get rid of any current fossil fuel investments within five years.

Divestment campaigns were instrumental in fighting South African apartheid and tobacco addiction. They will be effective fighting fossil fuel addiction, too.

✔︎ Click here to join the campaign.

✔︎ Click here for more information and resources.

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