Divesting From Fossil Fuels

For several years, student protesters at Syracuse University and SUNY ESF called for the divestment of fossil fuels. It was not until last April that both institutions announced the policy change. Syracuse University and SUNY ESF committed to complete fossil fuel divestment within five years. In addition, both institutions pledged to no longer directly invest in companies whose business is the extraction or transportation of fossil fuels. Institutions like SU and SUNY ESF allow for grassroots activism to take place so that each individual has the opportunity to be heard. Without student activism, there would not have been a policy change that ultimately led to social change. Two student organizations, Divest ESF and Divest SU, are responsible for taking this positive action, and hope to move towards a brighter environmental future both at home and around the world.

One year later, neither institution has any direct investments in fossil fuel companies, with no plans to invest in the future. At the divestment goal’s completion, any indirect investments made to companies with the biggest potential climate impact will be relinquished. Several universities followed suit after Syracuse University and SUNY ESF set divestment goals, fueling a larger movement towards social change.

There are currently over 500 institutions working towards fossil fuel divestment. Among these institutions are universities, governmental organizations, faith-based groups, NGOs, pension funds, foundations, for-profit corporations, and health care groups. Some of these organizations have made full divestment commitments, while others have only made partial commitments. Divestment commitments – whether full or partial – work to end the profiteering off of harming the environment.

Divesting from fossil fuels makes a strong statement that these institutions do not condone and will not finically support harming the environment or the public's health. Divestment movements are not just a moral statement, but are an effective strategy in promoting change. Divestment movements have a long history of leading to political change (i.e. South African divestment in the 1980s) and the fossil fuel divestment movement has gained momentum.

Fossil fuel divestment has now reached statewide efforts. New York State Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly Assistant Speaker Felix W. Ortiz announced the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act (S.5873/A.8011). This would require the State Comptroller to divest the Common Retirement Fund (CRF) from fossil fuel holdings by 2020.

After its announcement, the bill received the endorsement of several outside groups – including environmental and community organizations. Senator Krueger is among one of the strong supporters that shared a video, stating “it is critical that we send the message that we are no longer going to invest our public funds in activities that do enormous damage to our environment, not just in New York, not just in the United States, but throughout the world.”

To start, divestment from coal companies must be completed within one year. Moving forward, divestment from all other fossil fuel companies must be completed by January 1, 2020. In addition, the Comptroller will annually report on the progress of divestment from fossil fuel companies. Statewide efforts are natural to the progression to federal legislature. As Senator Krueger mentioned, fossil fuel divestment is an imperative action that will positively affect not only New York State, but also the entire world.