December 16, 2020

Oped by Katelyn M. Kriesel, Councilmember in the town of Manlius, New York

First appeared in Syracuse.com

Over the last several years, I have been a passionate advocate for fossil fuel divestment. First on college and university campuses around our region, and then with the Divest NY coalition, campaigning for the divestment of the New York State pension. This week, in an announcement heard around the world, New York state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli committed to divest the New York state pension fund from fossil fuel companies by 2025.

In an era of feeling as if one’s individual actions are not enough to effect change, and the feeling of helplessness at the relentless pace of climate change, this was a week to rejoice. In committing to divest from fossil fuel companies, DiNapoli is compelling them to change. Their business models are no longer viable, and their inability or unwillingness to adapt will render them obsolete.

Fossil fuel companies now realize that they must pivot to a renewable energy economy, or more shareholders will follow DiNapoli and New York’s lead, leaving fossil fuel executives to deal with the rapidly decreasing value of their companies. The other shoe has dropped, and they are finally being forced to adapt. This is an enormous win in the fight against climate change.

It is also a win for taxpayers. Our tax dollars have had to compensate for the underperformance of fossil fuel companies over the last dozen years.

Syracuse was a leader in this fight. Mayor Ben Walsh and City of Syracuse Councilor Joe Driscoll supported this effort, sending letters of support for legislation to divest the pension fund. Sen. Rachel May was one of the first cosponsors in the Senate, and was a tireless advocate for the bill. Assemblyman Al Stirpe co-sponsored the legislation in the assembly. I spoke at events around the region, educating New Yorkers on what fossil fuel divestment is and why they should support it. We all did our part to get this done, and I want to thank each official for their leadership and commitment to this important issue.

The people of the Divest NY coalition deserve accolades for this achievement. They have worked tirelessly, committed to the people of New York and to the future of the planet. Week after week, call after call, year after year, they never gave up. What started as a small group grew, and the leaders were inclusive. Everyone was allowed to have a voice and be a part of the process. Recently, some of our calls have increased to more than 50 people. Everyone was respectful, our group was diverse, and we all worked hard and supported one another. That was why we succeeded.

Thank you, Comptroller DiNapoli, for being a climate leader. Thank you to the elected officials of Central New York for your support. And a tremendous thank you to my colleagues in Divest NY for your thoughtfulness, your steadfastness, and your commitment to this cause. Congratulations to you all. You helped save the world.

Individual action does matter, and people power is real. To anyone advocating for a cause they are passionate about, be patient, keep believing in yourself, and never, ever, ever give up. We all have the power to effect change.