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Practical Alternative Policies To Divestment


By Norris McDonald

Reducing Your Footprint, Practical Policies that Reduce Environmental Impact

In the aftermath of President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord, several states and cities have responded by pledging to stay true to the goal of reducing emissions and protecting the environment. Some however, are stretching the argument and advocating for divestment of pension funds, like the mayor of Pittsburgh and state lawmakers in New York.

Pressuring countries, states, municipalities, endowments, and pension boards to divest from traditional energy-related assets may grab headlines, but in reality, it does nothing for our environment. Countless pension board officials who have been involved with divestment schemes in the past have noted that their actions did not significantly alter the way that the targets of these schemes operated. Fossil fuel companies, who produce and distribute a product much more ubiquitous than anything targeted by divestment advocates in the past, can see their stocks bought up on the secondary markets by stockholders not interested in the environment.

As a lifelong environmentalist, I have been long committed towards taking steps that will help our society reduce our footprint on the world. What kind of policies and actions should fellow environmentalists support?

Initiating greenhouse gas-reducing energy systems When Stanford University declined to divest, they promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on campus, pledging to achieve a 68 percent reduction in campus greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2016. This was achieved through the creation of Stanford Energy System Innovations (SESI), which combined cutting edge solar technology, waste water recycling, and an overhaul of the heating systems. By implementing the SESI, Stanford will be able to eliminate 150,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually, the equivalent of removing 32,000 cars from the road.

Encouraging Renewable Energy Programs

Solar energy has come a long way in the last few years, in terms of reliability and cost. Government can encourage the use of solar panels and other renewable energy soruces. In Los Angeles, for example, the Residential Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Program enables homeowners to install energy efficiency, renewable energy and water-saving improvements to their properties without putting any money down.

Encouraging Public and Green Transportation Options

Cities can and should encourage employers to provide financial incentives for employees to use public transportation, develop partnerships with regional transit agencies and increase infrastructure for bicyclists. Developing a bicycle infrastructure achieves many goals at once. It provides commuters and tourists with an alternative to fuel-burning busses and cars, improves public health, and reduces the amount of rainwater that a city needs to treat.

Energy Efficiency in New and Existing Buildings

Many different government entities at all levels provide financial incentives to build more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly structures, and upgrade existing facilities to be have a smaller footprint. There are policies and incentives in all 50 states currently, but they can always be expanded and strengthened.

Wastewater Recovery

Wastewater recovery and reuse helps sustain natural habitats based near or in metropolitan regions, reduce pollution, and encourage sustainability. Recovering wastewater helps reduce the environmental footprint of cities, towns, or counties with such measures. Recovering wastewater is a concrete, measurable, and tangible way that leaders can improve the environment. The city of Ramona, CA, for example, recovers 95% of its wastewater, irrigating golf courses and avocado groves. In Philadelphia, the city water treatment centers extract ambient heat from wastewater, and use it to heat municipal buildings, saving about $18,000 in energy costs every year.