February 28, 2016
I joined a group of current and retired dedicated teachers last week to learn how educators can get involved in advocating to divest the Minnesota State Board of Investment funds from fossil fuels. The meeting was inspired by our delegation of COP21 education ambassadors, who returned from Paris with a fire “to do something.” I came to the workshop as a newbie myself, familiar with the overarching idea of what divestment was, but not clear on the details or why it even made sense. I learned a lot. Our facilitator, Patty O’Keefe of MN350, was smart and informed; she clearly outlined the sound moral, environmental AND economic sense – yes, economic sense – of divestment. Much of what I am sharing now comes directly from her slides and presentation.
So, what is divestment? Well, first let’s start with what divestment is not.
Divestment is essentially the act of selling one’s shares in a company or a set of companies to elicit social or political change. Divestment is not something that only radicals who care more about the earth than the financial bottom line do. California state pension funds have divested from coal, the entire country of Norway has divested from coal and tar sands, and just last week the St. Paul City Council voted on a resolution barring the city from investing pension funds and other public money directly into fossil-fuel companies. In fact, globally, individuals and institutions have divested $3.4 trillion in assets, meaning that $3.4 trillion dollars, formerly invested in fossil fuels, is deliberately no longer invested in these risky assets.
Divestment is not a left wing conspiracy to destroy the economy.
A few facts: Coal stocks have declined by 85% over the past 5 years; oil & gas industry stocks have tumbled 29% over the last 5 years; and 35% of oil & gas companies are “high risk” for bankruptcy in 2016 (from a Deloitte study on market projections). Finally, in order to uphold the Paris Agreement, 80% of the fossil fuels currently in reserves need to be left in the ground. These reserves are, in financial terms, “stranded assets.” This means that the fossil fuel industry bases its value on these assets, and when we don’t use them, their value will tumble. Bottom line? The profitability and sustainability of funds like pension funds are threatened by investment in fossil fuels.
Not only people in positions of power can influence how money is divested
The Minnesota State Retirement System has $2 billion dollars invested in the top
200 fossil fuel companies. It will be the voices of those whose money is invested that will change this current system. As mentioned earlier divestment has happened in cities, states and countries and the major driver has been people in their communities demanding change.
So? What can you do and what are we doing?
At the end of our afternoon workshop, everyone shared what they would take away from the day, and what actions they would take. Some said they would speak to their union representative about how they could present a resolution at the local level, others said they would bring a caucus resolution to their precinct and others spoke of writing an op ed for their local paper. Other actions shared by Patty included:
- Organize within TRA to gain support
- Organize to gain support from your union
- Attend events (press conference, lobby day) and create visible teacher presence
- Circulate petition to other teachers
- Ask your legislator to support the bill
- Write Op-eds through teacher lens
If you want to learn more about how to get involved with divestment anywhere in the country search for a campaign near you at http://gofossilfree.org/usa/
For Minnesota teachers interested in joining the divest campaign here in Minnesota you can find more information at www.divestinvestmn.org, contact Patty O’Keefe, Patty@mn350.org, and please let us know the work you are doing to act on climate change!