Teachers pension fund must divest from fossil fuels

I am a retired teacher. I am not a member of the New York State Teachers Retirement System, but I respect the fiduciary responsibility its board members have to ensure a high return for teachers’ pensions. I understand how significant investments in the energy sector have been important for maintaining this security. The fossil fuel industry and its assets have provided both our energy and financial security for over a century, establishing a foundation whose failure is hard to imagine.

But as a close observer since 1980 of the advance of climate change and its social impacts, I also see that we are at a moment where either we shut off fossil fuel emissions now or we fail in sustaining a future for humanity.

This year, with carbon dioxide emissions rapidly rising, scientists are questioning whether the climate has moved from linear change to progressive and unpredictable change. This daunting uncertainty, along with the possible failure of the most responsible nations to make sufficient contributions at the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in November, may soon lead to an end of international ambition for global action.

The fossil fuel industry is failing. It is necessary for those with conservative financial responsibilities to achieve a new security. It is time for the New York State Teachers Retirement System to divest its $120 billion in investments in fossil fuels, including tar sands and coal companies.

The effectiveness of divestment to bring about change has little to do with market transactions. It is about abandoning an industry that has proven to be corrupt and incapable of change. It is abandoning an industry whose desperate last-minute grasp for false solutions only reveals the weakness of its management and its foundations.

For the past nine years, the calls for divestment have been essential in drawing attention to a collapsing industry and the need for immediate change. It’s time to start building a sustainable relationship with our environment in a climate that supports us before it is too late.

John Ingram lives in New York City. He has served on the steering committee 350NYC since 2016 and is active in the Divest New York Coalition. This viewpoint was adapted from a letter he wrote to the New York State Teachers Retirement System.



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