By Pranita Bijlani
The science is clear: we are at a singular and irretrievable moment in human history—our planet is in deep ecological crisis of a magnitude never experienced by humans, and the rate of human-caused climate change and ecosystem collapse is accelerating.
Moreover, climate impacts are hitting New Jersey particularly hard with sea level rise twice the global average. Temperatures are also rising faster than the national average, causing algal blooms, record cases of West Nile virus, and devasting impacts on our fisheries and other ecosystems.
We teach future generations. We have an obligation to leave them a living, habitable planet. Every day, I have to look at my students’ faces knowing the harm we inflict on our planet by allowing the destructive practices of the fossil fuel industry to continue. With knowledge comes the responsibility to act.
“The U.S. is Set to Drown the World in Oil,” reads an August 2019 report from Global Witness. That report indicates that “a staggering 61% of the world’s new oil and gas production over the next decade is set to come from one country alone: the United States.”
“This new production, a result of the fracking boom, sets the U.S. on a course to produce eight times more fossil-fuel-derived energy than Canada, 20 times more than Russia, and 40 times more than Saudi Arabia. If individual U.S. states were countries, seven of the top 10 producers worldwide would be states. Pennsylvania is set to produce twice that of Russia, and 25% of all new production globally will come from Texas alone,” according to Julie Anne Miranda-Brubeck, U.S. communications manager for Global Witness.
In the next decade, this level of fossil fuel production will certainly put us far past the 1.5 degrees Celsius warming threshold that scientists consider the safe limit, with the U.S. largely responsible.
This is not a moment for measured, careful steps. Just a few months ago, all of Australia was engulfed in smoke and a billion wild animals were left dead. The time of leading lives in which global climate change is not part every decision we make is over.
Divestment from the fossil fuel industry is a necessary way to push back. It is a powerful, symbolic move that stigmatizes the industry and sends a message to our government to stop supporting and subsidizing it. Divestment is a potent way to send a message to powerful oil, gas, and coal companies, as well as the governmental structures that support them, that there must be a just and rapid transition to renewable forms of energy.
The argument for divestment is not only an ecological one, it is a financial one.
Our pension is one of the least funded in the country. We need to make sure that every dollar is invested for maximum reliable growth. The fossil fuel sector is no longer the dependable blue chip stock it once was. During the early 1980s, seven of the top ten companies in the S&P 500 were fossil fuel stocks; today, there are none. In 2018, energy stocks were the worst performing sector of the S&P 500. According to the New Jersey State Investment Council’s own report, dated Sept. 25, 2019, in the first eight months of 2019, the energy sector has been down by 16%, underperforming every other sector in the portfolio.
As renewables and battery storage become less expensive and electric vehicles (EVs) become the norm, it does not make sense for us to continue investing in a sector with disappearing prospects.
My students should know the vast problems they will face in the world that they will inherit. As a teacher, I feel an obligation to protect my students and their innocence, but I cannot lie to them either. They read, they listen, and they have had good teachers. They know about the devastating ecological crises that are taking place because of climate change, deforestation, environmental contamination and other factors. They know that plant and animal species are rapidly disappearing through a mass die-off in what scientists call the sixth mass extinction of the Anthropocene. They know that human activity is at the root of this die-off.
There is a human tendency toward staying the course. For long periods of time, staying the course has meant stability and predictability, but there comes a moment when staying the course becomes perilous.
This moment demands not a mild and measured response, but a decisive and resounding one. To paraphrase my favorite C.S. Lewis quote, “Every virtue at its testing point is courage.” I would like you to tether your courage to the goodness of the universe, to the goodness you see in your students’ faces’, and join me in the call to divest our pensions from fossil fuels.
Pranita Bijlani is a seventh-grade English teacher at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Edison Township. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.