The Santa Clara Valley Water District became the first water agency in the nation to join a movement to divest from fossil fuels, retracting investments from companies considered to contribute to climate change and harm the world’s water supply.
“We are confronting and adapting to climate change impacts on water supply, flood control and watershed restoration, so we shouldn’t be funding the same companies that are the cause of these problems,” said Brian Schmidt, water district director and author of the new policy.
The district delivers billions of gallons of drinking water and flood protection for 1.8 million South Bay residents and some of the nation’s top tech companies. Agency officials say they’re increasingly worried about the receding Sierra snowpack and the booming demand for water caused by the planet’s warming.
The only investment affected by the unanimous divestment vote is a $3 million debt note from Chevron slated to sell once it matures in 2016. The vote bars the agency from making any future investments in any of the 200 largest coal, natural gas and oil companies. Berkeley, Richmond, San Francisco and municipalities in 14 other states took the same stance.
Cities, schools and nonprofits have joined the national movement to divest, modeling the act on a movement in the 1980s to withdraw support from South African companies to protest racial apartheid.
“We hope this decision will set a precedent for other government agencies,” said Jay Carmona, a divestment campaigner at 350.org. “It makes zero sense for our public institutions to be investing in companies that are putting the public at risk.”
Research has shown that climate change causes longer and harsher droughts across the U.S. Two-thirds of the land in the lower 48 states lapsed into drought last year and remains plagued by arid conditions, which racks up billions of dollars in damage from crop death, livestock die-offs and wildfires. For a case in point, look at Texas, where there’s plenty of oil but not nearly enough water.
Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, kicked off the divestment movement last fall with a speaking tour. Since then, several colleges, including San Francisco State University, have shirked fossil fuel investment from their endowments.
Inevitably, given that fossil fuels supply 87 percent of our global energy, there’s been some backlash. Forbes contributor Alex Epstein, who calls himself an “energy philosopher” and leads the “I Love Fossil Fuels Campaign,” champions a letter co-signed by 80 scholars against divestment. Epstein believes “radical environmentalist groups” lead the movement.
Of course, President Obama is counted among these radicals. During a climate speech earlier this summer at Georgetown University, Obama exhorted the audience to vote with their dollars.
“Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution,” he said. “Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest. Remind folks there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth.”