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Divesting Fossil Fuels -
Coming to Concord’s Spring Town Meeting

By Bob and Janet Lawson

Divestment. We all know that term from the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980’s when divestment helped to abolish an evil system in South Africa. But did you know that in 1983 Massachusetts was the first state in the nation to do it? And did you know that in 1995 Massachusetts became the first state to divest its public pension fund of tobacco stock? And that in 2010 Massachusetts voted to divest from businesses connected to Iran? Divestment has a proud history in Massachusetts. And now divestment is back as a centerpiece in the movement to stop climate change from becoming a global catastrophe.

If it’s wrong to ruin the planet, it’s wrong to profit from that ruin. That’s the premise of fossil fuel divestment, plain and simple. And there is no credible doubt that fossil fuels are wrecking the planet. Let us repeat, there is no credible doubt that fossil fuels are wrecking the planet. More than 97% of climate scientists agree that fossil fuels are responsible for global warming. There are no national or major scientific academies that dispute this. None. Climate change is causing rising sea levels, melting glacial and arctic ice, acidification of the oceans, increasing drought, floods and extreme weather. So why do we continue to invest in, promote and subsidize an industry that, like tobacco, has been proven to be killing us?

One answer is inertia. Another is that fossil fuel companies, and others who benefit from the status quo, are actively trying to stop the necessary transition to clean energy. How many times have you seen the TV ad with the pant-suited lady in the clean, high-tech elevator snapping her fingers for America’s bright fossil fuel future - without ever a mention of climate change?

But there’s a lot more to the industry’s disinformation campaign than advertising. Robert Brulle, an environmental sociologist at Drexel University, recently published a study asserting that close to $1 billion a year is being spent by vested interests to fight climate change policy. Most of this is “dark money” with the identity of the donor concealed by a third party foundation. These invisible contributions promote the roughly 90 think tanks and industry groups that try to influence the media and lobby the government to prevent action on climate change. Unfortunately, they have had a real impact.

It’s time for us to respond. A Resolution on Fossil Fuel Divestment will be on the warrant for the 2014 Concord town meeting and also in Framingham and Sudbury. Similar resolutions have already passed in four other Massachusetts towns and there is a statewide divestment bill, S1225, in committee on Beacon Hill.

Across the nation, Providence, Seattle, San Francisco, Boulder, Ithaca, Santa Fe and ten other cities have voted to divest. Last summer, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ (Congregational) voted a resolution urging its members and member churches to divest. It’s a growing movement and a way to break through the national gridlock.

Transitioning to safer energy will take concerted effort over many years and we need to begin that process in earnest right now. As we sit writing this in our warm and well-lit home, we are truly grateful for all the benefits of modernity- heat, light, transportation, advanced medical care… Ironically, these things, which have so benefited from our past use of fossil fuels, are the very things most threatened by our failure to begin this transition. Let’s insist to our leaders that we need to begin. Let’s take a step forward by passing the Resolution on Fossil Fuel Divestment at Concord’s 2014 Town Meeting.

Janet and Bob Lawson are co-petitioners for the Resolution on Fossil Fuel Divestment and members of the ConcordCAN! Steering Committee.