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Environment & Energy

Local Meets Global When It Comes to Fossil Fuel Divestment

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Diplomats from all over the world are meeting in Geneva this week to draft a crucial plan to address climate change. For this reason, a worldwide fossil fuel divestment movement has marked February 13 and 14 Global Divestment Days.

Locally, the Fossil Free Pitt Coalition and the Thomas Merton Center are holding a fossil fuel divestment rally and teach-in at the University of Pittsburgh. Nick Goodfellow, a student organizer with Fossil Free Pitt Coalition, and Gabe McMorland, an organizer at the Thomas Merton Center, talk with us about the local efforts to divest from fossil fuel industries.

McMorland says that he approaches the divestment issue from two angles: one ethical, another financial. The ethical issues behind fossil fuel consumption are well known: the industry and business model are built on using materials that create pollution and heighten climate change, he explains.

On the financial aspects, McMorland stresses the economic risk behind the notoriously volatile fossil fuels industry, suggesting that enlightened regulations are needed to disincentive investing in fossil fuels.

Goodfellow emphasizes that the interests of divestment advocates are not simply rooted in broad ethical reservations but also in a real interest in our region, where a great deal of fossil fuel extraction occurs:

“When we’re talking about fossil fuel divestment, we’re also talking about this community that is right around the corner from us, right at our doorstep. … There are people who are taking an unreasonable amount of the burden of fossil fuel extraction, and it’s important for us to use our privilege to elevate their voices and get those personal stories out there so that we’re not just talking about economics and stuff.”

Goodfellow says his organization is working to encourage Pitt to divest from coal, oil, and natural gas. But the extent of the university’s investments in fossil fuels is not fully known because state right-to-know laws don’t fully apply to the institution. He says that generally Pitt has accommodated the students’ and organizations’ interests in Pitt’s fossil fuels investments, but the accommodations have not yet produced substantial change.