Divestment as a Climate Solution Strategy: Massachusetts goes for the Gold!

Recently, many of our Climate Mamas and Papas have been sharing with us how their college kids are getting them excited about real climate solutions – on and beyond campuses – through the success of college “Divestment” campaigns.

We are thrilled to share with you one Climate Mama’s story on how divestment campaigns are now spreading from college campuses to State Houses. Take a few moments and read more from Climate Mama extraordinaire, Stacy Clark, as she shares the plans and hopes of Massachusetts State Senator Ben Downing, who is working to get the state of Massachusetts to divest it’s pension funds from fossil fuels.

The MA Committee on Public Service is set to vote on Senator Downing’s bill by the end of June, so do help us by sharing this news and Stacy’s post widely!

State Sen. Downing Pioneers a Fossil Fuel Divestment Strategy for MA Pension Fund
By Stacy Clark

Photo Credit: Stacy Clark

Photo Credit: Stacy Clark

“Failure has a way of opening doors to wildly unexpected and remarkable opportunities and success stories,” Navy SEAL Commander Rorke Denver told the high school graduating class of St. Mark’s School of Texas on May 23rd.

Commander Denver’s words resonated with me as I watched this class of young men, all so accomplished, talented, and hardworking, look out across the grass quadrangle that they once played on as boys to see the smiling faces of families, friends and faculty looking at them with great expectations.

I thought to myself, what will be the future for these graduates and how many failures will they have the luxury of making? When it comes to combatting global climate disruption, a lack of critical reasoning and personal accountability on behalf of my generation has already compromised the future of these men and their descendants.

We are handing off to our children a planet in cardiac arrest from heat exposure and dehydration and we rarely give it a moment’s thought. The clean energy economy, capable of moving us beyond the centralized carbon-intensive energy that pushes the planet’s mercury higher, has been stymied by many events.

2014-06-09-DivestmentKids-thumbRemarkably, what has emerged in response to the vast intellectual void that is Washington today, are the determined, can-do voices of college and university students across the country, who, through their own coordinated actions, are broadcasting the clear and present danger posed by our carbon-intensive economy. Their goal: persuade all that global climate disruption is a matter of ethical and moral urgency and that investments in fossil fuel-based businesses must end.

In a word, their movement is called Divestment and it has reoriented the climate conversation so dramatically that in Massachusetts, State Senator Benjamin B. Downing was motivated to present his proposal to divest the Commonwealth’s $54 billion pension fund from fossil fuel-based interests.

Speaking with me from his Pittsfield, MA office, Senator Downing described how Massachusetts Senate Bill 1225 would benefit his state:

“Going through different proposals for the start of this legislative session and talking to my staff and looking at the broader things going on around climate — what we had done at the state level — what other states were doing — what was going on at college campuses and unfortunately wasn’t going on in Washington — our aim was to figure out where we could continue to make progress. We agreed that aligning our state’s energy and transportation policies with our investment strategies would be a win-win for stakeholders throughout the state.”

If adopted, Massachusetts will be the first state in the nation to divest from fossil fuels — further piquing the public’s interest in and support for the kind bold environmental measures that states can deliver.

I asked Senator Downing how divestment would accelerate growth in his state:

“I think that when you look at extreme weather events, when you look at the consensus of the scientific community, and when you look at the realities of climate, the long-term investment risks of fossil fuels become clear. At that moment, you quickly realize that it’s harder not to take action. Our Governor [MA Gov. Deval Patrick] is very eloquent in saying that inaction is not only ‘not a choice,’ but that its costs are only getting higher every minute of every day. So, the sooner the investments we need to make in clean energy, energy efficiency, and energy conservation are in place, the sooner our state will benefit.”

Pushing such a pioneering proposal past the goal line requires consensus and Senator Downing believes that it is growing:

“I think the significance of the work that folks have done on a grassroots level across the state is that we currently have at least five democratic candidates for Governor in MA and all of them have endorsed divestment — every last one. The fifth one got on board actually on Earth Day. One of them is the Treasurer right now — Steve Grossman – and he actually sits on the pension board in our state, so he does have a significant voice and a role to play. And I have to give him credit. When we brought this issue to him, it wasn’t something that was on the pension fund’s radar.”

“One of the points that helps to put this issue into perspective for everyone is that you can take fossil fuels out of the discussion and put in tobacco, you could put in Sudan, and you could put in South Africa, and the arguments are exactly the same. And yet we’ve been able to divest either from those industries or from those nations and we haven’t impacted our investments negatively.”

College_graduate_studentsAs our high school graduates take on the world, let’s remind them that it takes just one State House, one community, one campus, one team, or one voice to start a conversation, raise awareness, present solutions, and commit to a goal that serves the public good. With any luck, they’ll remind us!

In a recent essay, my son, Dylan Clark — one of the graduates on the stage above — wrote the following closing statement for his summer essay to determine his English placement at college:

“Individuality leads to individual expression. But that expression leads not only to betterment of the self, but also betterment of the community. And the advancing community pulls each member of it forward. There lies the secret. A community of involved individuals is the community that will move us forward.”

Senator Downing can be reached at Benjamin.Downing@masenate.gov or 617-772-1625.

Stacy Clark: Mom, Environmental Geologist, Climate Reality Project Leader, Clean Energy Writer and Teacher. This is an abridged version of Stacy’s post which first appeared in the Huffington Post on June 11, 2014. You can connect with Stacy on Twitter at @Stacy__Clark

Photo Credit: Students Campaigning for Institutional Divestment from Fossil Fuels, 350.org

Photo Credit: College Graduates By Kit from Pittsburgh, USA (Grads Absorb the News) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This entry was posted in Climate Mama News, In The News, Schools and Colleges, Take a Stand: Action & Advocacy and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Divestment as a Climate Solution Strategy: Massachusetts goes for the Gold!

  1. Stacy Clark says:

    Thank you Harriet (@ClimateMama) for posting this story about State Sen. Ben Downing’s proposal to divest Massachusetts’s pension fund from fossil fuels! It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see S. 1225 succeed in the Commonwealth where all five candidates for Governor agree that the State’s energy and transportation policies should line up with the State’s long-term investments.

    Huge thanks to Bill McKibben for starting the movement that is now accelerating our nation’s transition to clean energy!

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