Press Release from Peninsula Interfaith Climate Action (PICA)
Interfaith Victory: Palo Alto Fossil Fuel Divestment Resolution PassedPALO ALTO, CA — February 9, 2014.
The City of Palo Alto, responding to concerns from Peninsula Interfaith Climate Action (PICA), voted unanimously to send a message to CalPERS (California Statement Employee Retirement System), the national’s largest pension fund, to pull its investments out of fossil fuels.
Councilmembers Marc Berman, Patrick Burt, Karen Holman and Liz Kniss submitted the initial “Colleague’s Memo” in favor of divestment. “Climate change poses a top-tier threat to our future. Our obligation to address climate change through all avenues requires support from all sectors,” noted Council member Cory Wolbach. “I was inspired to see the passionate and effective work of these congregations collecting 152 signed letters on behalf of fossil fuel divestment. Those letters, presented by a cross-denominational coalition, sent a very powerful moral statement.”
Eileen Altman is an associate minister at First Congregational Church in Palo Alto and a PICA member who spoke at the City Council meeting. “As Christians, we share a core set of values and concern for God’s gift of life, both human and all other life. Our investments should reflect our values.” said Rev. Altman. “This concern is not a liberal or conservative value, but is a Christian value. The US political system unproductively magnifies differences when Americans everywhere share 98% of the same values. Climate is about the future of our children and is especially about the people who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Climate is the biggest social justice issue of our time. From the pews in Palo Alto and throughout the United Church of Christ, the first denomination to pass a resolution to move toward divestment from fossil fuels (in 2013), we welcome the opportunity to respectfully dialogue about climate with churches in all regions of the country and across all party affiliations.”
While the call for fossil fuel divestment may have its strongest impact as a symbolic statement, it also has practical implications for the economic value of employee pensions, explained Debbie Mytels, convener of PICA, which comprises a dozen local congregations that submitted signed letters to the Council in favor of the divestment resolution.
“While we believe it’s a moral obligation to stop using the fossil fuels that are causing sea level rise, extreme weather events and drought-related crop losses,” Mytels said, “it’s also important to question how long investments in these companies will be financially valuable.”
“If we want to protect our employees’ pensions, we need to get CalPERS to pull out of dirty fuels before they become ‘stranded assets’.” said Mytels, citing a recent statement by Deutsche Bank in Germany that said “to meet climate change targets, over half of identified fossil fuel reserves will have to stay in the ground.”
“While we are pleased with Palo Alto’s progress in becoming a city that supplies ‘carbon free’ electricity to its utility customers,” Mytels said, “we feel it’s time for our city to demonstrate further leadership by joining the call for divestment.”
“Thankfully, Palo Alto itself does not own any investment in fossil fuels of any sort — that’s all the more reason for the Council to consider the long-term safety of our employees’ CalPERS retirement assets,” she added.
Reverend Will Scott, from California Interfaith Power & Light (CIPL), noted that “CIPL and our growing statewide network of more than 640 congregations are grateful for the inspiring work of the Peninsula Interfaith Climate Action group, now a CIPL Regional Working Group. Their regular, committed, and personal engagement on the local level as people of diverse faiths concerned about the climate crisis, is a strong model for other regional working groups in our network. Indeed, they are exemplifying the sincere, collaborative, practical, rooted and creative community resiliency needed throughout the world to meet the seriousness of this global challenge. California Interfaith Power & Light is learning much from PICA’s practices and shared wisdom.”
Palo Alto now joins a growing group of California cities, including San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Brisbane, Richmond, Fairfax, and Santa Monica in calling for dropping fossil fuels from employee pension funds. Sunnyvale may be the next city. Other regional agencies, including the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which is mandated to protect Silicon Valley citizens from floods, have also passed similar resolutions due to concerns about sea level rise.
In advance of Global Divestment Day, Feb. 13, 2015, Norway announced last week that it would drop coal and tar sands companies from its national investment portfolio. Similarly, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund has made such a decision, along with 50 other philanthropic organizations. The divestment movement is also growing significantly among national faith-based groups, and nearby Stanford University has agreed to eliminate its holdings in coal companies. Today, California State Senate President Kevin de Leon introduced SB 185, directing CalPERs to divest coal fossil fuel investments.
For more information about PICA, see http://www.interfaithpower.org/pica and http://pica.nationbuilder.com/
City of Palo Alto Fossil Fuel Divestment Resolution.
The Palo Alto City Council voted unanimously in favor of divestment: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/B9dpI7FCQAAfghe.jpg
PICA members celebrate: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/B9dpI7JCIAAsuEF.jpg
For more information about the international fossil fuel divestment movement, see http://gofossilfree.org/