Confessions of a Fossil Fuel Divestment Activist

For four years I’ve been a leader of the Divestment Team at 350PDX but in all that time I didn’t divest my own investments.  I knew I had to do it but I was too busy. It was too complicated. I just couldn’t seem to get around to it. And it weighed on me…

The team I co-lead has had success convincing Portland, Multnomah County, Metro and others to divest. We’ve started organizing to push the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) to divest, we supported local colleges and universities in their quests to convince their trustees to divest, we talked to foundations and with faith-based activists and seen them have some success. Then we developed a resource page for personal divestment on the 350PDX website. People started reporting to us that they’d divested their personal portfolios. But still, I wasn’t divested myself.

I had always considered what I was invested in; I picked only socially responsible mutual funds but this was before the fossil fuel divestment movement launched. Divestment presented a new challenge. I knew I had to do but I was too busy. It was too complicated. I just couldn’t seem to get around to it. It would be too hard to know with mutual funds because they are always buying and selling. I didn’t have billions like PERS, or millions like the City of Portland, but I knew it all adds up. Sure, it wouldn’t be headline news, but I needed to put my investments in line with my values and activism. It weighed on me.

So finally, one day I went to the Divestment/Reinvestment Team’s personal divestment page and found the sample letter that was right for me. I personalized it for each of the five companies whose mutual funds I had and sent off hard copies.

It didn’t take long to get answers. Within a few days I got an email from Ariel Investments informing me they screen for tobacco and hand guns but not fossil fuels, but they sent me a link to the current holdings of the fund I held. I compared the list to the Carbon Tracker 200 list and found Ariel Fund ‘clean.’ I will have to check back from time to time but for now I’ve kept it.

Next Calvert Investments sent a 140-page prospectus with a letter telling me they do “not currently offer a fund that excludes fossil fuel … However, because … research has identified significant risks related to oil, coal, gas, and nuclear power, Calvert funds have very little exposure to companies with direct ownership of these energy assets… As a result, as of the date of this letter, the Calvert Equity Portfolio does not hold any companies on the Carbon Tracker 200 list.”

I owned shares in two Parnassus Funds: Core Equity Fund and the Parnassus Fund. They said, “we have two funds that are fossil-fuel free–the Parnassus Fund and the Parnassus Endeavor Fund.” They enclosed a prospectus for the latter. Bye Bye Core Equity, Hello Endeavor.

I still haven’t heard from the last company, PAX Fund. But I did find a list of their holdings online (conveniently divided by sector) and started reading the list of their energy stocks. It didn’t take long before I found Peabody Energy! I didn’t need to read any further. Peabody is number 10 on the coal list! Bye Bye PAX.

It feels so good to have my investments in line with my values and passion for keeping it in the ground!

Disclaimer: I am not making any investment recommendations nor giving you investment advise! Neither is 350PDX.

Share you divestment story with us here
On the same page, you can anonymously add the amount of the portfolio you divested–we’re going to run a total of personal divestment locally on our webpage.

Written by: Sandy Polishuk