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Fossil fuel divestment should be Rhode Island’s future

In 1776, Rhode Island was the first colony to declare its independence from the British. In 2013, it is time for Rhode Island to become the first state to declare its independence from fossil fuels.

Fossil Free Rhode Island, a growing group made up of community members and alumni, faculty and students from Rhode Island’s colleges is calling on the state to divest from fossil fuels.

Summing up Fossil Free’s decision to embark on a campaign of state divestment, Sherrie’Anne André explained that “every day that goes by without action means that more and more fossil fuels are being extracted and burned, leading to the wreckage of the climate and the poisoning of our communities. Rhode Island has a moral obligation to act, and the time to act is now.”

Fossil Free has an ongoing campaign to convince the administrations of the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and the Community College of Rhode Island to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Fossil Free, joining forces with the divestment movements at the Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University, recently celebrated the Providence City Council’s decision to commit to fossil fuel divestment.

Now that the city of Providence has committed to divestment, the time is ripe for the state of Rhode Island to make history, once again, by divesting its multi-billion-dollar pension fund from the fossil fuel industry.

The following are just a few examples of the surprisingly rapid growth of the fossil fuel divestment movement:

• Individuals, governments, corporations, universities and religious institutions have successfully used divestment to create positive social change. Indeed, as President Obama said in his June 25 address on climate change: “push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest.”

• Massachusetts is considering divestment in Bill S.1225, “An Act relative to public investment in fossil fuels.”

• The state legislature recently acknowledged the seriousness of climate impacts for our state: On June 28, it created the Rhode Island Climate Change Commission to adapt to climate change and to increase economic and ecosystem sustainability.

Fossil Free cites the following motivations for divestment:

• To keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius, mankind can put no more than 600 gigatons of additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by mid-century. Current reserves of the fossil fuel industry total close to 3,000 gigatons — five times the safe limit.

• The fossil fuel industry has a business plan that involves burning all those reserves, and thus wrecking the climate in total disregard for the biosphere.

• As climate impacts become more severe and governments curb the burning of fossil fuels to keep global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, the “carbon bubble” will pop and fossil fuel share prices will plummet.

• It is immoral to invest in companies that spend millions of dollars lobbying against clean energy solutions and promoting climate change denial.

• Divestment will help suspend the social license of the fossil fuel industry, and will expose “Big Oil” as a morally bankrupt enterprise.

• Historically, divestment campaigns have been effective, as in the case of helping to end apartheid in South Africa.

Indeed, as the divestment movement gains traction, a growing number of politicians are voicing their support. Meanwhile, investors across the globe are contemplating the results of over-valuation of oil, coal and gas reserves held by fossil fuel companies and the uncertainty of their future.

With more coastline per square mile than any other state, Rhode Island suffers disproportionately from the worsening reality of climate change. Ocean acidification, sea level rise and extreme weather events have already taken a heavy toll on our communities. Citing this reality in its recently started petition drive, Fossil Free declares: “We must act now to avoid catastrophe. [...] We, the People of Rhode Island, urge our leaders to divest all state funds from fossil fuels to protect our future.”

Peter Nightingale

The writer is a member of Fossil Free Rhode Island

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