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Why The Green Urbanistas Got McGinn Elected

2012 December 28
by dan bertolet


Seattle Mayor Calls For Divesting City Pension Funds From Fossil Fuels

During the 2009 election Mayor McGinn won the support of urban greens including yours truly because he came across as a potential leader who would not be afraid to take bold action on sustainability issues, climate change in particular. Alas, during the first three years of his tenure McGinn has struggled with the realities of city politics, and has not been able to live up to the high expectations of many of his early backers.

However, his recent decision to pursue divestment in fossil fuels  is exactly the kind of bold move that McGinn’s urbanist supporters had always envisioned. What other Mayor of a major U.S. city would have the audacity to be the first to sign on to such an out-of-the-mainstream, anti-status-quo movement?  Bloomberg?  Emanuel?  Not. And how about mayoral hopefuls such as Tim Burgess or Ed Murray?  Doubtful.

As I wrote here,’s fossil fuel divestment strategy will no doubt be derided by the “grown ups,” given that the industry is so ginormous and so embedded in our civilization. The Seattle Times, for example, has not yet covered the story (trusting in Google). And although Harvard University students voted 72 percent in favor of divestment, administration officials have said Harvard was unlikely to divest its holdings in fossil-fuel stocks.

As has happened many times over in social change movements throughout history, eventually the grown ups get with the program or die off, whichever comes first. But since in the case of cities and climate change we don’t have luxury of waiting around for that sorry process to play out, we need leaders who are willing to follow their conscience and stick their necks out even it if may be a political risk.

I find it inspiring that McGinn has taken such an important first step on fossil fuel divestment for my city.  And this is just the sort of mojo that could re-energize McGinn’s base and give him a shot at another four years.