Getting public institutions and pension funds to pull their investment dollars from fossil fuels is the new push for climate activists, an organizer said Thursday during a talk in Coeur d’Alene.
Many of the world’s coal, oil and natural gas reserves are held by 200 publicly traded companies, said Jay Carmona, national divestment manager for 350.org, a climate action group.
With billions of dollars in their endowments, action by U.S. universities, state pension funds and religious groups could revolutionize the nation’s energy future, Carmona said. Diverting that money away from fossil fuels would speed up investment in renewable energy and reduce the influence of oil and gas companies, she said.
Carmona spoke Thursday at a Kootenai Environmental Alliance luncheon and spent the evening at an Idaho Conservation League event in Sandpoint. The Oakland, Calif., resident was in North Idaho en route to New York, where she had set up a meeting with the state’s comptroller.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, U.S. universities began divesting in South Africa, which helped pressure that government to end apartheid. Climate activists see the potential for universities to lead the way again.
In late 2012, Unity College, a small Maine institution with a $13 million endowment, became the first U.S. college to pledge to divest from fossil fuels. Other colleges and 23 cities, including Seattle, have followed, Carmona said.
The latest paper by the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change discusses the need to change the pattern of energy investment, she said. Yet officials at Exxon Mobil Corp. recently issued a report saying that global climate policies are unlikely to keep the company from selling oil and gas far into the future.
“These companies are planning on selling every drop,” she said.
350.org also supports “carbon restrictive” legislation that would give companies greater financial incentives to invest in alternative energy. The organization has been a strong opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Alberta to U.S. refineries.
350.org takes its name from 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which some scientists consider the safe upper limit to avoid a climate tipping point.
Carmona said that even one of California’s greenest funds had direct investments in Alberta’s tar sands.
“I have not found a portfolio that did not have fossil fuels. This stuff is everywhere,” she said.