Katie Orton is a new 350 CO Intern and excited to be learning more about climate change and the ways we – often unknowingly – let our planet slip away. She lives in a tiny house she built with her partner and is always looking for ways to reduce her carbon footprint. Until November, you can find her in the North Denver and Boulder areas knocking on doors for the Progressive Turnout Project and talking with voters about why they vote. Below is her guest blog post focused on pension funds and fossil fuel investments, including ways to begin taking action. 

For Christmas last year my employer gave me a $20 bill with the instructions to pay it forward. I held on to it for a while, trying to figure out who was the most worthy of a “free” dinner, or new shoes, or a nice houseplant. I thought of giving it to someone living without a home, donating it to Black Lives Matter, even contemplated spending it on my dog.

However, I never considered walking into a Shell gas station and telling the employee to pass it up to their CEO. You couldn’t have convinced me to call up Exxon and tell them I’d like to make a $20 donation to overheating our Earth’s atmosphere. I don’t approve of the way oil and gas companies burn fossil fuels and overload the ozone with greenhouse gases, which in turn create devastating storms and temperature changes. So why would I let retirement money given to me (in the form of stocks and bonds) go towards those very same fossil fuel companies?

Pension funds are huge sums of money that get invested in supposedly stable companies on behalf of employees to use for retirement. In Colorado, the Public Employees’ Retirement Association (PERA) manages the retirement funds for over 500 government agencies and public entities. Unfortunately, the Colorado PERA fund has decided to use these funds to invest upwards of 1.5 billion dollars in oil, gas, and coal companies, even when many employees are concerned about the negative effects of climate change.

When someone is acting inappropriately or harming others, it is common to cut them off financially. For instance, the US has imposed tariffs on countries acting inhumanely towards their citizens; investment in tobacco companies halted when it was discovered that cigarettes are addicting and cause cancer; if a kid hits their sibling, parents take away allowance for the week. Yet somehow, fossil fuel companies are going unpunished for irreversible climate crimes — in fact, they are being rewarded financially to the tune of millions of dollars in investments from the CO PERA fund.

Divestment is the action of “un-investing”. For example, taking our retirement savings out of the hands of fossil fuel companies and reinvesting into renewable energy companies. This sends the message that fossil fuel money is dirty money, discouraging others from supporting new oil projects and leading to more restrictive legislation. Investing in renewables also gives us higher returns as found in a recent study conducted by Corporate Knights. They estimate that CO PERA is valued at at least $1.77 billion less than it would have been had it divested from fossil fuels in 2009. The world is moving towards a carbon free economy. If we want to avoid losing our retirement savings as the fossil fuel industry crashes, our PERA funds need to be carbon free too. 

Here’s how you can take action and get involved. Send a message to CO PERA that you don’t want your retirement money funding climate change. 

  1. Sign the petition calling on PERA to divest here and contact PERA directly to give them feedback at peraboard@copera.org
  2. Check out www.FossilFreePERA.org to learn more and get involved
  3. Share this link with your networks and engage your coworkers
  4. Divest your personal savings! Sign the Divest/Invest Pledge her