Remarks on Fossil Fuel Divestment

On June 30, the Council voted on a resolution which revised investment policies in several ways, most notably to encourage fossil fuel divestment (PDF). I supported the resolution. Check out my remarks and the video below:

I wanted to thank Councilmember Licata for advancing this resolution, and also to all of the activists in this city, including students at UW who have been working on this.

Over the last decade, we have seen a clear surge in environmental activism. A broad coalition has been forming against the concrete effects of climate change that people are observing everywhere, at home and around the globe. In fact, a global protest movement is starting to shape up. We should mention the Keystone XL pipeline protests around the White House, that were inspired by Occupy, and also the budding struggles of indigenous people in the US and in Canada.

Climate change is the tragic, logical, and inevitable conclusion of capitalism’s destructive model of growth in service of private profits and private wealth consolidation to benefit a few individuals at the expense of billions of people and the planet itself. This model will continue to externalize human and environmental costs for as long as it persists.

The rise of, an environmental network headed by Bill McKibben, has seen hundreds of groups set up at colleges, universities, faith organizations and cities across the U.S., building campaigns for fossil fuel divestment, including the city group which has called for the resolution before us today.

Before joining me here, Ben Peterson, one of my Legislative Assistants, co-led the Divest UW group at University of Washington, along with Alex who spoke. In fact, I met him through Socialist Alternative’s own activism on climate change issues, and we are in agreement with Divest UW on the need to move away from fossil fuels. Divest UW has worked on securing several agreements on the path to divestment, including an agreement by the University to adopt and follow environmental, social and corporate governance standards when managing their funds.

The Divest movement has the capacity to catalyze the public and inspire people to break with the destructive logic of capitalism in favor of democratic management of our resources. It is activating a new base of organizers.

I want to be clear: When I support divestment as a socialist, I am not doing so to embrace a more favorable market stance, because such a thing does not exist so far as climate change is concerned, but to make a clear political statement about the need to fully turn away from fossil fuels. We need to stop hemorrhaging carbon into the atmosphere, and divestment, as such, is a declarative statement. The constituents and members who advance it are saying very clearly that this economic model is as unethical as they are suicidal.

I thought it would be very apt to quote an article from Naomi Klein, a really groundbreaking article in the New Statesman in October of last year, in which she quotes scientists themselves. One of them, Brad Werner, who is a complex systems researcher, says that his research is not driving him to take action towards one particular policy or against another: “he is saying that his research shows that our entire economic paradigm is a threat to ecological stability. And indeed that challenging this economic paradigm – through mass movement counter-pressure   is humanity’s best shot at avoiding catastrophe.” I think I could not have said it better.

Fossil fuel divestment is the first stage policy tool that has played a phenomenal role in starting a debate, and we should support this movement, and use it in order to achieve the final goal which is a complete and systematic change of the economy itself and a shift away from capitalism.

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