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Divest from Fossil Fuels and Reinvest in Workers and Communities

By staff - American Federation of Teachers, July 16, 2022

WHEREAS, climate change represents an urgent and accelerating crisis, as extreme weather, forest and wildfires, infectious disease outbreaks, rising sea levels, and pollution wreak havoc on the ecosystems and societies in the U.S. (where the cost of climate disasters doubled in 2020) and across the globe; and

WHEREAS, the climate crisis exacerbates already existing systemic injustices along racial, regional, social and economic lines, concentrating harm in frontline communities (including Indigenous communities, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities and youth); and

WHEREAS, teachers, nurses, academic staff, public workers and higher education faculty have taken leadership in educating students on the climate emergency, in forging alliances with climate movements, and in promoting action to reduce carbon emissions, notably:

· In 2017, the American Federation of Teachers executive council resolved to “urge its locals, state federations and members’ retirement systems to … review strategies to mitigate the risk of climate change in their investment portfolios, including, … possible divestiture from other types of fossil fuel companies that contribute substantially to climate change. …”

· In 2017, the AFT executive council passed the “Resolution on a Just Transition to a Peaceful and Sustainable Society” (referred from the 2016 AFT national convention) and committed therein, “to a rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy … [such that] most fossil fuels must be left in the ground.”

· In 2020, the AFT national convention resolved “that the American Federation of Teachers will fully participate in shaping the definition of ‘a just transition to a peaceful and sustainable economy,’ … in accord with the latest climate science regarding the need for very rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions;” and

WHEREAS, shareholder resolutions and even director votes at fossil fuel companies—as alternatives to divestment—have never resulted in significant change at coal, oil or gas companies nor led to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from those companies' products; and

WHEREAS, the fiduciary duty of retirement funds obligates them to consider divestment from declining assets or at high risk of being stranded, a category that Blackrock, Makeda and the World Bank now believe includes fossil fuels; and

WHEREAS, there are now more than 1,500 institutions with assets over $39 trillion that have committed to some form of fossil fuel divestment, including the following funds (many explicitly in order to reinvest in environmentally and socially responsible industries): 

· Teachers’ Retirement System of the City of New York; 

· New York State Common Retirement Fund and the Maine Public Employees’ Retirement System; 

· City of Boston’s and the City of Baltimore’s investment funds; 

· London Pensions Fund Authority;

· La Banque Postale of France;

· Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Québec;

· Norway Sovereign Wealth Fund and the Vatican;

· The endowments of Harvard, Oxford, Rutgers and the University of California, among other institutions of higher education; and

WHEREAS, according to the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, each $1 million reinvested from fossil fuels to green energy results in a net increase of five jobs—often unionized jobs in solar and wind farms or in other sectors suitable for organizing; and

WHEREAS, Illinois’ Climate and Equitable Jobs Act of 2021 and the federal Build Back Better bill provide models for reinvestment in local, green jobs; and

WHEREAS, AFT members participate in public and private pension plans totaling roughly $5.8 trillion (of which an estimated $255 billion is invested in fossil fuel corporations) and, therefore, possess significant financial means to address the climate crisis and promote a just transition for workers and communities:

RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers will urge boards managing the retirement funds of its members to divest their assets—in consultation with all members and their local unions—from all corporations or other entities that extract, transport, trade or otherwise contribute to the production of coal, oil and gas—and to reinvest those funds in projects that benefit displaced workers and frontline communities in the state or region of the given AFT members; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will urge the board of TIAA to divest the retirement funds of higher education members—in consultation with their local unions—from all corporations or other entities that extract, transport, trade or otherwise contribute to the production of coal, oil and gas—and to reinvest those funds in socially responsible, climate-positive projects that benefit displaced workers and frontline communities; and

RESOLVED, that AFT’s Climate Justice Task Force members and chair(s) shall convene quarterly or more frequently (beginning with the third quarter of 2022) to (1) assist in the implementation of this resolution, (2) identify means by which AFT may divest its own assets from fossil fuel corporations and reinvest them in workers and communities, and (3) promote all of AFT’s other work toward climate justice.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author.

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