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City wants to divest fossil fuel investments

Ashland showed its stance on fossil fuels Tuesday night by passing a resolution urging state investment boards to divest from fossil fuel companies.

City Recorder/Treasurer Barbara Christensen worked closely with Southern Oregon Climate Action Now to create the resolution. Christensen used a similar resolution from Eugene as a template. The resolution does not change Ashland's investment practices. However, it urges the Oregon Short Term Investment Board and the Public Employees Retirement System to examine their investment portfolios and consider divesting from fossil fuel companies.

More than 30 SOCAN members attended Tuesday's meeting to support passage of the resolution the group had worked on since presenting during the public forum of the June 17 council meeting.

"Reduced snow pack, extended wildfire seasons, drought and extreme cold that we are experiencing are clearly consistent with global warming models," said Diana O'Farrell during the resolution's public input phase. "While the actions of one small municipality may not contribute much to addressing the problem, each of us should do what we can to divert the inevitable consequences that a 'business as usual' approach would cause."

Governments around the world determined that any warming above 3.6 degrees would be unsafe. Analysis shows that humans can only emit about 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide to maintain that limit. The Carbon Tracker Initiative found that fossil fuel companies posses reserves proven to emit 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide if burned. The resolution states that Ashland believes investments should support a future where all citizens can live healthy lives without the negative impact of climate change.

"Currently, under the influence of strong corporate voices promoting maximization of short term profits, governments at all levels are failing to act," said the Rev. Tom Buechele. "We speak for those without a voice; namely future generations of our children, grandchildren and beyond."

Councilors were highly supportive of the resolution, but reminded residents that this shouldn't be the end.

"While I support the this, I question how it achieves its goal," Councilor Mike Morris said. "We say we don't want to invest in fossil fuels, but we're still using them. 

"There should be something else to achieve this goal. Otherwise we won't make much difference."

Councilor Greg Lemhouse echoed Morris' thoughts.

"This is an active step, but not the final step," he said. "Many people believe that an idea is what changes things, but it doesn't do that alone."

The council approved the resolution with a unanimous vote. Councilor Pam Marsh said that this resolution was a great step towards their goal of making a climate and energy plan a priority for the city.

Kathy Conway, project leader for SOCAN's divestment project, said Wednesday that she was very pleased with the council's unanimous decision.

"It shows that the city is really together on being a leader in combating climate change," she said. 

Conway said that the divestment team will meet in November to discuss next steps, including looking at other cities in the area interested in divestment.

"We're here to provide help and guidance," she said. "We want to be a resource for other groups that wish to combat climate change."

SOCAN has a host of other projects currently underway, including the Oregon Climate Declaration, which collects signatures from residents across the state who are concerned with climate change to influence state officials. 

See www.socan.info for more information about SOCAN's projects and to learn how to get involved.

Email reporter Ian Hand at ihand@dailytidings.com or call him at 253-722-4071. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/IanHand_DT.