New York City divests from fossil fuels; sues oil majors
By Flannery Winchester
“When I woke up on October 30, 2012, I was met with a Lower East Side that had no power, no communication, no heat, no water.” Damaris Reyes, a Lower East Side native and executive director of GOLES, shared her memories of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation at a press conference on Jan. 10. Climate change became real for her that day, more tangible and terrifying than ever before. “Sandy was my wake-up call,” she said.
“Climate change is real. It’s a painful, horrible reality,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio, acknowledging the 44 lives Hurricane Sandy took in New York City and the $19 billion of damage it inflicted. “That is the face of climate change—that’s what it means in human and real terms. That’s why we have to do everything we can to stop it.”
Reyes’s testimony and Mayor de Blasio’s opening remarks set the stage for these incredible announcements: New York City will divest its pension funds from fossil fuels. It will be the first major U.S. city to do so, and an estimated $5 billion of investments will be divested. The city will also take BP, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell to federal court over their contributions to climate change.
“Let’s be clear: this is a fight we’re in the middle of right now. This city is standing up and saying, ‘We will take our own action. We’re not waiting,’” Mayor de Blasio said. “We hope that when we act, others will follow because they see the biggest city in this country decisively moving forward.”
A win for climate and environmental justice
After sharing the details of the divestment and the lawsuit, Mayor de Blasio then introduced Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein, calling them “some of the folks who sounded this alarm earliest, who spoke most passionately for this change.”
McKibben began by thanking his colleagues at 350.org and people in the climate justice movement who have worked to make these actions possible. “You have sent a global signal today,” he said, a signal telling the world that we need decisive, major action, and that cities, states and provinces can take that action. “Science and economics and morality are on the side of this city, and so it will eventually win. We hope it will win in time.”
McKibben said he hoped the Empire State building would be lit up green that night. “Green for the money that New Yorkers are going to save, but green for the planet that New Yorkers today are doing so much to protect.”
Naomi Klein spoke next, saying, “What is happening here is about changing the economics of energy, speeding the transition from dirty to clean,” Klein said. “It is also about something else: it is about justice. It represents a collective victory for the amazing climate justice movement in this city and around the world.” She called out UPROSE, NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, New York Renews, and national and global groups.
“Justice means that the corporate interests that did the most to get us into this mess, with their pollution, with their campaigns of lies and willful misinformation, are going to have to pay their true share of the tremendous costs of climate disruption and long delayed transition,” Klein explained.
“Right now we have it absolutely upside down and backwards. As it stands, the costs of sea level rise and ferocious and unprecedented weather events are being offloaded onto the public, with taxpayers stiffed with the ever-ballooning costs.” As governments try to absorb those costs, Klein said, it limits what is available for schools, housing, transit, and other necessities, which also increases the burden on frontline communities. “In short, the status quo means that the poor are paying the polluters over and over again to get even richer. It is a world upside down, but today we take a major step in turning it right side up.”
She continued, “As of today, everyone needs to up their ambition: Be bolder. Move faster. It’s what our planet requires, and it’s what justice demands.”
The press conference continued with remarks from Naomi Ages with Greenpeace; Letitia James, the Public Advocate for the City of New York; Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers; and others who played a part in these historic steps.
Celebration and support
These moves, particularly the choice to divest billions of dollars from fossil fuels, send a strong economic signal away from carbon-intensive fuels. As we say in our core values, we’re focused on carbon pricing as an effective way to send that message, but we know it will not solve the problem entirely. We’re deeply appreciative of the work that our friends in other groups are doing, and we’re happy to celebrate their success!
“Climate change is such a large, complex problem that we need people working on many different fronts of the fight,” said Stephanie Doyle, CCL’s National Outreach and Partnership Coordinator. “As CCL volunteers advance the conversation in the halls of Congress, the tireless efforts of leaders like McKibben, Klein, and community organizers across the country show the urgency of this issue and continue to raise its profile on the national stage.”
She added, “These announcements are a major win for climate action and a great way to start off 2018.”
To learn more about the intersection of climate and justice issues, as well as how you can work in conjunction with EJ groups, watch this presentation from Citizens’ Climate University. You can also join CCL’s Climate and Environmental Justice Action Team.