September 10, 2020

1100+ Academics release letter demanding state legislators divest New York from fossil fuels

PRESS CONFERENCE RECORDING HERE

Design credit: Katie Sims

NEW YORK — As students, teachers, and our communities return to school amidst a global pandemic and fossil-fueled climate disasters, 1100+ academics, scientists, and professors released a letter to New York State legislators, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, escalating the demand to divest New York State’s Common Retirement Fund (NYS-CRF) from fossil fuels once and for all. The NYS-CRF is nearly $200 billion in size and is the retirement fund for more than 1 million New Yorkers, one of the largest in the United States.

Key leaders in the fight to #DivestNY held a press conference today to release the letter, convening powerful testimonies from academics and young New Yorkers alike. The press conference was moderated by Hridesh Singh, Executive Director of New York Youth Climate Leaders. Speakers included:

  • Dr. Farhana Sultana, Associate Professor of Geography, Syracuse University; Research Director for the Program on Environmental Collaboration and Conflicts at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. 
  • Prof. Rebecca Bratspies, Professor of Environmental Law, CUNY School of Law
  • Dr. Bob Howarth, David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology & Environmental Biology, Cornell University
  • Bill McKibben, 350.org co-founder, Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College
  • Katie Sims, Cornell University Class of 2020 Bachelors of Science in Environmental Science and Sustainability, member of Climate Justice Cornell.

This comes as the proposed Fossil Fuel Divestment Act (FFDA) reaches 99 sponsors in the state Assembly and Senate. The FFDA would direct Comptroller DiNapoli to exercise his fiduciary responsibility and move to divest the state pension fund from all fossil fuel companies within five years. 

To date, over 1240 institutions representing over $14 trillion in assets have committed to some level of fossil fuel divestment. In New York alone, this includes the New York City pension funds, Cornell University, Cooperstown, Riverside Church, Columbia University, Park Slope Synagogue, and more.

New Yorkers launched the demand for Comptroller DiNapoli to #DivestNY the day after Superstorm Sandy devastated communities. While the Comptroller has recently taken the laudatory step of divesting the NYS CRF from coal, the window for meaningful action is quickly closing. The NYS CRF has lost out on at least $22 billion in returns from failing to divest from fossil fuels. 

This comes as communities experience cascading and accelerating fossil-fueled climate disasters: from fires in California to Colorado and deadly heat waves, to flooding and a barrage of hurricanes hitting the Caribbean, Gulf and East Coast. Meanwhile, Exxon was dropped from the Dow Jones Industrial Average after a 92 year run, and coal, gas and shale companies are declaring bankruptcy left and right. 

On September 30, 350 US is convening Stronger Than Storms: Climate and Just Recovery Forum,” bringing together community leaders on the frontlines of historic and ongoing climate disasters already hard and work leading a just and equitable recovery from the climate crisis.

QUOTE SHEET

“As the last few months have shown with Hurricane Laura devastating the American South and the Caribbean, the West Coast currently on fire, and yet another year of record high temperatures across the world, the climate crisis is here and now. The urgency for climate action has never been greater and New York State ought to lead the nation by fully divesting its pension fund from the fossil fuel industry,” said Hridesh Singh, Executive Director of the New York Youth Climate Leaders. 

“We call on New York’s Comptroller to stop investing in the technologies that threaten to destroy New York, and to instead channel that money into the clean, sustainable technologies of the future. Divestment is not only a moral and social imperative, it is a good business move that will help build a fairer, safer, greener New York,” said Professor Rebecca Bratspies, CUNY law professor, and founding director of the Center for Urban Environmental Reform.

“Fossil fuel divestment is an important component of a just transition towards climate justice. NY state divestment of its pension fund away from fossil fuels will not only assist New Yorkers in their role in reducing climate breakdown, but also help communities globally, especially communities of color, who are devastated by fossil fuel industry’s extraction, pollution, human rights violations, and the cumulative impacts of climate change. These communities, both here and abroad, bear the unequal and uneven brunt of the climate injustices, as does the planetary ecosystem that all life depends on. Divestment signals NY’s commitment to climate justice and to equitable and just transitions towards regenerative economies and societies,” said Dr. Farhana Sultana, Associate Professor of Geography, Syracuse University; Research Director for the Program on Environmental Collaboration and Conflicts at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. 

“Everyone, right now, is living in an uncertain world due to a pandemic, climate change, state violence, and economic deficiencies, and that’s magnified for young people looking at our futures. While young people should be able to look to the future with excitement, curiosity and passion, we’re faced with the risk of an unlivable future. It’s contradictory for institutions responsible for ensuring a safe and secure future to continue to invest in fossil fuels. Cornell University came around to this idea, and so must the New York State pension fund,” said Katie Sims, Cornell University Class of 2020 Bachelors of Science in Environmental Science and Sustainability, member of Climate Justice Cornell.

“The West Coast is on fire, the Arctic is in full-melt mode, the oil industry is losing money hand over fist — we’ve reached the point where divesting is not just sensible, its mandatory for anyone with an ounce of awareness,” said Bill McKibben, 350.org co-founder and Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College.

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Contact: Lindsay Meiman, li[email protected], (347) 460-9082

 

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