San Francisco had another bright idea
San Francisco had another bright idea.
Shutterstock / Nickolay Stanev

Oil companies might be awfully profitable right now, but political leaders in San Francisco and 10 other U.S. cities want to dump their investments in them anyway.

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted this week to urge the city’s investment fund managers to sell off more than $583 million worth of shares in Chevron, ExxonMobil, and some 200 other fossil-fuel companies. This makes San Francisco the biggest city to join the divestment campaign being pushed by 350.org, which began with a focus on colleges and universities. Seattle was the first city to join the campaign; its mayor got on board late last year. Divestment might still be months or years off, if it happens at all, but civic leaders calling for action is a critical first step.

Other cities where leaders have taken moves toward dumping their dirty stocks: Boulder, Colo.; Eugene, Ore.; Ithaca, N.Y.; Madison and Bayfield, Wis.; Sante Fe, N.M.; State College, Pa.; and Berkeley and Richmond, Calif., both in the San Francisco Bay area. Activists in 100 more cities have started circulating petitions calling on their leaders to divest, 350.org says.

Richmond is an interesting example: It’s home to a nearly 3,000-acre Chevron oil refinery, so its residents know firsthand about the evils of the oil industry. Not only does the refinery sicken its neighbors — with an extreme example coming last year when a huge explosion blackened the air and sent 15,000 people to the hospital — but Chevron is suing Contra Costa County, claiming it was overcharged tens of millions of dollars in property taxes. (And this is a company that made $26 billion in profits last year.)

When it comes to fighting climate change, cities are often described as being at the front lines of the battle. Many stepped up and took action even when George W. Bush’s administration was trying to stymie progress. Beyond its call for divestment, San Francisco is trying to reduce demand for fossil fuels by, for example, sponsoring a program that helps residents buy solar panels and trying to create a green electricity program to compete against investor-owned utility PG&E.

Keep it coming, cities. The municipal fossil-fuel divestment trend is just another example of local activism that could collectively have an international impact.