The city of Pittsburgh should withdraw its financial investments from industries that profit from fossil-fuel extraction. By doing so, Pittsburgh would join a worldwide divestment movement to protect the planet from the impacts of climate change.
The recent divestment decision by The Rockefeller Brothers Fund received a great deal of attention but hundreds of cities, universities, faith-based organizations and foundations in the United States have made the same decision to divest from fossil-fuel investments. This is also true internationally.
Those of us on the Environmental Justice Committee of the Thomas Merton Center have been looking at the issue of divestment for some time. The TMC board recently asked Mayor Bill Peduto and city council to take a visionary action by immediately freezing any new investments in fossil fuels and divesting within five years from direct ownership and any co-mingled funds that include fossil-fuel-based public equities or corporate bonds.
Pittsburgh has become a leader in demonstrating its concern for the environment. We are a worldwide model for green building and ecological urban renewal. By our far-sighted decisions, we have acknowledged that our actions as a city have consequences not only for current generations but for future generations.
By contrast, investing in fossil fuel is short-sighted. It not only contributes to climate change, it also helps fund the degradation of our most basic components for a thriving economy — our land, water and air.
Investments in fossil fuel also contribute to short-sighted public policy. By helping to maintain the financial dominance of fossil-fuel industries, we contribute to their dominance over public policy, to our long-term detriment.
Perhaps the ultimate short-sightedness of fossil-fuel investment is that it is keeping us from investing in alternative energy sources. At some point, the supplies of fossil fuel will be depleted, despite increasingly destructive extraction techniques, and we will have missed critical opportunities to invest in alternative energy sources.
Corporations in the extraction industry are in a difficult position. They have made a commitment to shareholders to continue tapping reserves in order to generate higher short-term profits. Without strong public actions, such as divestment, they will feel compelled to continue business as usual.
Divestment could help these extraction industries out of their dilemma. It alerts corporations that the time has come to transition to a new model of growth. It lets investors know that there is a popular commitment to leaving 80 percent of the known carbon reserves untapped, a necessity if we are to reduce any of the impacts of global warming.
Divestment is a vote of confidence in those individual and corporate investors who are taking the lead in developing renewable energy resources, many of which can be local or regional, benefitting Pittsburgh’s economy.
We recognize that this is a challenging path, but we must stop walking down a short-sighted path of “business as usual.” With several green-energy businesses already operating in our region — and much more untapped potential — our city can divest from fossil-fuel-addicted multinational corporations and invest in local, green, renewable energy.
If we make wise decisions now, we will have a brighter future.