A Teacher’s Participation in Divest Invest Minnesota

Lauren LeithI attended COP21 in December of 2015. This was a monumental time in the history of our planet, where 195 nations drafted an agreement to reduce carbon emissions and to keep global warming below 2 degrees. At first, I was shocked to see how far behind the rest of the world the U.S. was in taking action, but I was happy that we joined the “High Ambition Coalition” during the negotiations.  

On returning from the trip, many of the participants from Minnesota decided to continue with our own “High Ambition Coalition” in our work locally. Our goal is to help make Minnesota a national leader in carbon reduction efforts. When looking at all of the actions we could do to support this, we found that state employees, along with teachers, have their pensions invested in fossil fuel industries. Morally and ethically, this seems out of kilter to be profiting from the very companies that are emitting carbon. Furthermore, in order to keep the planet below the 2 degrees of warming, 80% of fossil fuels need to stay in the ground as stranded assets. So I started working with the Divest Invest MN campaign along with MN350.

Healthy Pensions Healthy ClimateThe campaign’s goal is to divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies and invest our pensions instead in renewable energy. Divestment means selling shares as a stance to elicit change, and call out the moral problem of investing in planet-wrecking fuels. California’s pension system has already taken this stance. Currently, more than $2 billion of the $82 billion invested in the Minnesota pension fund is in fossil fuels. There is a bill that has been introduced to ask that the state look into divestment. Interestingly, data also shows that it would be financially beneficial to divest from the fossil fuel market.

To help move the campaign along, I first brought it up to the staff at my school. All of Avalon’s staff voted in favor of the resolution to divest. Later this summer, several of us met with Rebecca Otto, the State Auditor, and with Steve Simon, the Secretary of State, both of whom are part of the State Board of Investment. After the meetings, our group understood that we need more visible public support to move a bill through the legislature. We have to get the message out on what we are trying to do. We need more signatures on the petition asking the state to look into divestment; we need more groups to formally support the bill; we need individuals to contact their legislators and express support for divestment.

If you would like to learn more about divesting or to sign the petition, please visit MN350’s website. I also urge everyone to look into their own investment portfolios and consider divestment.

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