Letter to the editor

What will be Chicago’s legacy on climate change?

In the past year alone, huge strides have been made in the fossil fuel divestment revolution. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state of New York have announced divestments of almost $400 billion in state budget and pensions from fossil fuel assets. A little closer to home, Illinois began implementing the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA). Chicago even played host to the 1st annual North American Climate Summit.

The city of Chicago needs to follow in New York’s footsteps and commit to divesting it’s operating budget and pensions away from fossil fuels.

Mayor Emmanuel and his sustainability department have already publicly committed to running all of the city’s public buildings on 100% renewable energy by 2025. This pledge is encouraging, however public buildings represent only 8% of the Chicago’s total energy usage. Additionally, the amount of our city’s operational budget still tied up in fossil fuels is ~$80 million dollars, and another $330 million is remaining through the city’s largest pension funds. As Mayor Emmanuel has said, “I want Chicago to be the greenest city in the world…” It’s time for him to follow through on those words and commit to divesting Chicago from fossil fuel assets.

Tumbling costs of wind & solar, combined with improvements in battery storage tech are already producing energy more cheaply than antiquated coal plants and even newer natural gas-fired power plants. Major automakers have also committed to shifting their fleets to primarily electric and hybrid vehicles over the next 10 years. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, this conversion of the transportation sector will precipitate a sharp drop in oil demand within the next decade. As demand for fossil fuels declines, they will continue to be devalued in the market and leave investors vulnerable to financial losses, including Chicago’s pensions and operating budget that are tied up in fossil fuel.

If pensions experience shortfalls, then Chicago taxpayers are going to foot the bill one way or another. With property taxes already the 2nd highest in the nation, pension losses will put additional strain on Chicago’s economy and drive even more residents from the city, further exasperating city budget issues.

The case for fossil fuel divestment has made moral sense for quite some time now. It has become increasingly clear to anyone paying attention that now it makes economic sense, as well.