Op-Ed: If NJ Should Divest from Guns, Why Not from Fossil Fuels?

Tina Weishaus | August 14, 2019 | Opinion
It’s puzzling that governor and Senate president have not come out in favor of taking New Jersey pension-plan funds out of fossil fuels, which threaten our very existence

Credit: PD Photos/Pixabay
I applaud the recent support by Gov. Phil Murphy and Senate President Steve Sweeney for divesting the New Jersey public pension plans from gun and ammunition companies. Following the Parkland shooting last year, state Sen. Vin Gopal introduced legislation calling for gun divestment and it is now being looked at again following the horrific attacks in El Paso and Dayton.

Too many people die because of easy access to guns. The gun manufacturing lobby, in working with the National Rifle Association, has blocked commonsense legislation at all levels of government. Even though New Jersey has some of the toughest gun laws, it is too easy to buy a gun in neighboring states and use it in mass attacks as well as neighborhood shootings and suicides.

However, I am perplexed as to why Murphy and Sweeney have not come out in favor of the New Jersey pension plans divesting from fossil fuels, which have the potential of killing far more people on this planet and have been described as an existential threat to life on earth. Bills have languished in the Senate and Assembly regarding fossil-fuel divestment for years and, although the governor has been appealed to on this issue, there has been no response from him.

The argument on fossil-fuel divestment does not rest on the moral arguments of their destructive impacts alone. We are as a society becoming more and more aware that climate catastrophes in the areas of food and water shortages, sea level rise, storms, droughts and wildfires threaten our survival and that we must act immediately to limit the damage. The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we have until 2030 to keep the rising global temperatures to a 1.5-degree Centigrade (2.7 degree Fahrenheit) increase.

Even though it might take years to divest responsibly

We understand that the State Investment Council, which oversees the state pension plans, has fiduciary responsibility to make sure that the investments are prudent and in the best interest of its members. That is why DivestNJ Coalition has been making the argument to the council that oil and gas are bad financial investments in addition to being a threat to our survival. Fossil fuels were the worst-performing sector of the Standard & Poor’s 500 in 2018 and at the bottom in the years prior. And the outlook for this sector is extremely negative given the transition to electric vehicles and the competitive pricing of solar, wind and battery storage. In other words, the future of fossil fuels is bleak and continuing to invest in them puts the New Jersey pension plans in jeopardy of losing money when they could be investing in any other sector and adding more value to the pension plans.

Admittedly there is far more pension-plan money invested in the fossil-fuel energy sector than in guns and it might take years to divest responsibly. But more than 1,000 institutions around the globe have committed to doing just this including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, World Council of Churches, the country of Ireland, the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund, and Brandeis University.

As the spokesperson for DivestNJ Coalition, I call on the governor and the Senate president to speak out on the threat that continued investment in fossil fuels holds for us all as New Jersey pension members and retirees, taxpayers and citizens of New Jersey and the world.

We have a responsibility to make hard decisions but in many ways, this is easy: Fossil fuels threaten our very existence and simultaneously are a bad investment for the pension plans. If the pension plans can make as much or more money investing in other sectors, there is no reason in the world for the Legislature to continue to permit the SIC to hold on to those investments. The financial and existential future for our residents and our children and grandchildren is at stake.

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