It's Time for the District to Divest From Disaster

This Tuesday, November 26th, the DC Council is holding a hearing on the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act, a measure that would force the District to shed their holdings in the 200 publicly traded coal, oil and gas companies with the largest reserves of carbon dioxide. They should vote to move the measure forward.

The devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan was a brutal reminder of the threat climate disruption poses to communities around the world. When Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines, it was the strongest storm ever recorded. Haiyan drew its power from an area of the Pacific ocean that has warmed by 2°C in recent years and brought with it storm surge made all the more destructive by the 8 inches of sea level rise global warming has already caused. Scientists have warned us that if we don't take immediate action to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, storms like Haiyan will only become more frequent and more powerful.

Climate change doesn't just impact far off islands. Here in Washington, D.C., the Army Corps of Engineers is quietly building the newest monument on the National Mall: a 380-foot-long storm wall to protect the Washington Monument and other priceless national treasures from the flooding and violent storms that are the price of our inaction.

Haiyan should have been a powerful wake-up call, yet the majority of our politicians have been lulled to sleep by spells cast by the fossil fuel industry. This last weekend, the latest round of UN Climate Talks came to a close in Warsaw, Poland, without making any significant progress on creating a new global climate treaty. Delegates from around the world heard a tearful plea from a top Filipino negotiator, and promptly ignored it.

The failed talks once again made it clear that leadership on climate change will have to come from the bottom-up, from places like our cities. Here in the District, the D.C. Council has taken a number of important steps forward in reducing our contribution to climate change. In 2011, the District published a detailed plan to reduce its own carbon footprint. The same year, Mayor Vincent Gray invited residents, local nonprofits, and businesses to join agency officials in crafting Sustainable DC, a 20-year plan "to make DC the greenest, healthiest, and most livable city in the nation." The District government recently signed a contract to purchase 100 percent of electricity from renewable sources, making it one of the top municipal consumers of green energy.

Yet the District government is working against its own plans by investing its retirement and health care funds for city employees in coal, oil, and gas companies like Exxon, Chevron, and Arch Coal that are driving climate change. The fossil fuels these companies hold in reserves contain five times the amount of carbon than are needed to create out-of-control climate change. Together, these companies spent $347 million in 2009 and 2010 lobbying Congress to prevent the creation of policies that can slow global warming, and they have consistently voted down shareholder resolutions to address climate change.

At the urging of a group of concerned D.C. residents, the Council of the District of Columbia has proposed the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act of 2013 -- legislation that would remove investments in the 200 publicly traded companies with the most fossil fuel reserves from the District's portfolios. If passed, it would be the third time that the D.C. Council has passed divestment legislation -- first in the 1980s to protest South African Apartheid, then in 2009 to protest state-sanctioned nuclear proliferation and genocide in Iran and Sudan.

The action would shield the retirement funds of District employees from the "carbon bubble" -- which experts including HSBC and Citi predict will reduce the value of fossil fuel stocks by 40 to 60 percent. Most importantly, by divesting, the nation's capital would be calling on country, state, and local governments, as well as businesses, to take urgently needed action to prevent the worst-possible impacts of climate change -- impacts that would decimate communities in the District, in the Philippines, and around the world -- from becoming a reality.

It's time for the District to divest from disaster. The Fossil Fuel Divestment Act would be a powerful addition to the Council's work to address the climate crisis.

The DC Council is holding a hearing on the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act on Tuesday, November 26th at 12pm at the John A. Wilson Building at 1350 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Room 412, Washington, DC 20004. For more information, go to