Mayor Michelle Wu of Boston signed a measure to divest city funds from the fossil fuel industry on Monday, adding Boston to the small number of major US cities that have taken the step to combat the climate crisis.
After running on a Green New Deal for Boston — and advocating for divestment during her time as city councilor — it is perhaps fitting that this law is the first that Wu has signed since being sworn in as mayor last week.
At the signing on Monday, Wu said the ordinance was “making history for the city of Boston, and really setting the tone for the rest of the country.”
The ordinance prohibits the use of public investments in any company that derives more than 15 percent of its revenue from fossil fuels, including coal, oil, and natural gas, or fossil fuel products. In Boston, that adds up to roughly $65 million in city investments of the $2 billion portfolio that is overseen by the city treasurer’s office. The ordinance includes a 2025 deadline for full divestment.
“A budget is a statement of values, and how we choose to talk and walk need to be consistent as a city,” said City Councilor Lydia Edwards, who, along with Wu and Councilor Matt O’Malley, wrote the ordinance and championed the effort. “Today, the two are walking together — our money, our values — to ensure we’re investing in the most fiscally responsible way, but also in a way that provides for a future for our children’s children’s children.”
Increasingly, activists are targeting the financing of fossil fuels in an effort to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
A small number of other major US cities — including New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Seattle — have announced similar steps. Some states, including Maine and New York, have passed divestment legislation as well. Earlier this year, after nearly a decade of resistance, Harvard announced that it would divest its $41 billion endowment from fossil fuels.
Although Boston’s fossil fuel investments are minimal in the grand scheme of the trillions of dollars the fossil fuel industry is worth, legislators and activists hope these small steps will add up. “Mark my words, other cities will follow suit,” said O’Malley.
At the signing event, US Senator Edward Markey — the author of the federal Green New Deal legislation — said Boston’s divestment represents “what a Green New Deal city looks like in the United States.”
“Boston is at the center of this dangerous science experiment which is taking place on this planet, with the fossil fuel companies using us as the experiment,” Markey said. “What the mayor is signing today is a declaration of independence from the oil, gas, and coal industries.”
Boston took the step days after state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg proposed using the state’s $98.5 billion pension fund as a weapon against climate change. If passed in February, the approach would direct pension board managers to vote against the directors of any company that isn’t actively working toward a climate goal in line with either keeping warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial temperatures, or net-zero emissions by 2050.
At the signing on Monday, activists applauded Boston’s move. Activist, author, and educator Bill McKibben, who has led the divestment movement nationally, called Wu’s signing of the ordinance transformative — what he said would probably be the first of many decisions that will cement Boston as a leader on climate.
“This is a wonderful, wonderful place to start,” McKibben said. “To stand up to power and say: No more. Time now for real change before it gets any later.”
Sabrina Shankman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shankman.