September 24th was a big day for Portland, as both Multnomah County and the City of Portland voted to divest from the Carbon Tracker 200, the top 200 companies still maintaining reserves and drilling for fossil fuels around the world. Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury introduced the divestment section of the morning meeting by noting that, “Where we invest our dollars is a reflection of our values” and noted how crucial it is that reserves stay in the ground if we are to combat global climate change. She thanked 350PDX and especially Sandy Polishuk for two years of advocacy on this issue.
Mayor Hales welcomed everyone to a Happy Climate Week and hailed the partnership between Multnomah County and the City of Portland in developing a climate action plan and moving together toward divestment. Having attended a meeting of mayors at the Vatican, Hales spoke about the Pope’s urging people to commit to caring for the planet and its people, engaging in responsible stewardship and responsible capitalism. Local governments, he said, are where things are beginning to change. In this case, the resolution will codify current practice, as the county sold its Shell shares in March of 2014. The non-fossil-fuel shares bought to replace them have performed better than Shell has from that time until now.
The resolution was adopted unanimously, which was greeted with sustained applause. After passage, Chair Kafoury realized that, in her eagerness for a positive vote, she had not given invited speakers and members of the public a chance to comment and invited them to do so. 350PDX’s Sandy Polishuk noted in her comments that the resolution includes language inviting others to join in divesting from fossil fuels and urged people to pressure the state of Oregon to join the city and county. Students Kate Jemtoft-Herr (Fossil Free Reed) and Alfredo Gonzales (Divest PSU) also spoke, noting that sustainability is also related to social and environmental issues.
Similar testimony could be heard at the City Council session.
“We have been waiting for this day,” said Sandy Polishuk, the lead of the Divest/Reinvest team at 350PDX during her testimony in front of Mayor Charlie Hales, who brought the resolution to Portland City Council for a vote. The resolution to add the Carbon Tracker 200 to the City of Portland’s Do-Not-Buy list was passed unanimously!
The room was abuzz with excitement and anticipation as orange-clad community members, organizational allies and supporters (ranging from environmental allies to faith-based and peace groups), various representatives of differing decrees and affiliations (including 350.org’s Bill McKibben), and even polar bears gave testimonials enthusiastically in support of the divestment resolution proposed by Mayor Hales. Deborah Kafoury also made an appearance at the session and gave a testimony that summarized the majority of pro-divestment speakers when she said that combating climate change is “one of the most challenging issues of our time.” 350PDX organizer Mia Reback added that “we mustn’t be complicit” to the negative impacts of climate change brought on by the fossil fuel industries and that this resolution is the first step in showing our refusal to bolster fossil fuel companies.
This resolution was in response to the persistent appeals by 350PDX and Hale’s recent trip to the Vatican. Indeed the resolution came to City Council on the very same day the Pope addressed our nation on the moral urgency of addressing climate change and poverty. It also comes at a time when, to cite just one example, ExxonMobil is spending $90 million a day exploring for new carbon reserves (we can’t afford to burn upwards of 80% of known reserves without wrecking our planet).
While this motion to divest is a huge win-win-win for us, the City of Portland, and Multnomah County, there is still much to be done. First, unlike Multnomah County’s resolution to divest, the City’s resolution is not a permanent policy and will be up for review next year. The need for a permanent solution at the city level is crucial to provide the type of security necessary to follow through with divestment strategies regardless of who is in office. Another limitation of this resolution is it does not address actively divesting from Portland’s current fossil fuel contracts. Currently, the city has a combined $63 million invested in ExxonMobil and Chevron bonds. Those contracts do not expire until 2018. Both companies have made the news this past year: Chevron for severe negligence when toxic flames burst from its California refinery causing thousands of hospitalizations, mostly of those in neighboring communities of color; ExxonMobil for pouring millions of dollars into climate denial for decades while knowing full well from its own scientific research that we are heading toward a climate catastrophe.
Many of the speakers testified on behalf of communities who are most impacted by climate change. For instance, Kafoury of Multnomah County and Laurie King of Climate Jobs PDX explained that Portland’s values are fundamentally based in environmental justice and more needs to be done to address climate change’s impact on vulnerable populations, older adults, people of color, and the houseless population, via reinvestment of city funds. Areas of reinvestment include renewable energy companies, green job creation for marginalized Portland groups, and increased development of green infrastructure throughout the city, such as sustainable and adequate public transit and public parks.
We commend the City and County for aligning their investments with their stated values, while reducing financial risk. They have listened to our call for divestment and the momentum created from these decisions needs to be utilized to the fullest extent to improve and expand this policy in ways that make it permanent, comprehensive and beneficial to the communities of Portland, the surrounding region, and the world. As Hales stated in his final statement, “Hold us accountable. Tell us to do more.” And that’s precisely what we plan to do.
-Tay Stone and Kathleen Worley
I’m a student and work long hours at two jobs, but I still make the time to volunteer with 350PDX because this work and the people are so important to me. I facilitate the communication team meetings, I read A LOT of emails, I coordinate the newsletter…I tend to experience all of the greatness of 350PDX in a very “backstage” kind of way. Because of my busy schedule trying to make ends meet, I often can’t be present to experience these amazing events, actions and wins…except this time I did and I’m so happy I had the time to witness such an achievement. These truly are historic and momentous times and I’m proud to be a part of it, even if it’s mostly behind the scenes.