Students celebrate SF resolution to divest from fossil fuels

Bill McKibben: "If you’re invested in the fossil fuel industry, then you are profiting from the wreckage of the climate."

Famed environmental writer and founder Bill McKibben wore a short-sleeved T-shirt as he stood on the steps of San Francisco City Hall this afternoon and addressed a crowd of energized student climate activists.

“It’s a pretty day here, but it’s a little warmer than it should be,” he remarked of the hot afternoon with temperatures creeping above 80 degrees F. “This is the hottest May 2 ever recorded in the city of San Francisco.”

McKibben was there to celebrate a recent victory for his organization’s fossil fuel divestment campaign, which came last week when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to adopt a resolution by Sup. John Avalos urging the San Francisco Employee Retirement System to divest from companies that hold fossil fuel reserves.

McKibben’s organization,, has been urging colleges, universities and city governments across the country to enact similar measures. “This is pretty simple math. The math is, if you’re invested in the fossil fuel industry, then you are profiting from the wreckage of the climate,” McKibben said. You are making a bet that nothing will ever be done to stop or slow down climate change, because if anything ever is done, it will put those investments at risk. The perversity of that is stunning.”

Students across the country have organized campaigns to divest, borrowing a tactic from the anti-apartheid movement. Over the last couple days, “The students at the Rhode Island School of Design had gone and occupied their president’s office, because they were getting no attention to their demand for divestment,” McKibben noted. “And they dropped a banner out the window. And the banner said, ‘We may be art students, but we can still do the math.’”

He went on: “There’s no absolute guarantee that we’re going to win this fight. But I do know … that we’re at the very least going to fight. And fight hard.”

Sup. John Avalos also delivered comments at the rally. When he first contemplated introducing the resolution, “I thought, oh no, just another advisory measure that we’re going to do as a Board of Supervisors,” Avalos admitted, “but I also saw the real value of it. That if San Francisco could take a stand like this, it could have a real impact on all the other cities around the country.”

He added that the most compelling argument for divestment was that, “We know that we cannot take all of the fossil fuel out of the ground that those corporations are seeking. And eventually … they’ll be stranded assets that we’ll have no return on in the future.”

Asked after the rally whether he thought SFERS would indeed divest as a result of the nonbinding resolution, McKibben told the Bay Guardian, “I have no doubt that they will. … I think that that’s starting to happen all over the country, and I think people like Supervisor Avalos are serious about making sure that it’s for real. You know, in Washington we make rhetorical statements with nothing behind them, but hopefully in San Francisco,” things will turn out differently, he added.

Earlier in the day, Norm Nickels of SFERS noted that the resolution has not yet been added as an agenda item for the Retirement Board to take up, because it has not yet cleared the final hurdle for official Board of Supervisors approval.