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California Governor Signs Ambitious Climate Change Bill Forcing Public Pensions to Divest From Coal

Climate

As Governor of California Jerry Brown signed a much-applauded bill into law on Thursday, fossil fuel divestment activists celebrated as the two largest public pension funds in the U.S. will now be forced to divest from any company whose primary profits are related to the mining or use of thermal coal.

The new law, introduced by Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) as S.B. 185, requires that both the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) and California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) sell such holdings by July of 2017. Any future investments in coal mining or highly-related businesses are also prohibited by the law.

According to the Los Angeles Times:

The new law will affect $58 million held by the California Public Employees' Retirement System and $6.7 million in the California State Teachers Retirement System, a tiny fraction of their overall investments. The funds are responsible for providing benefits to more than 2.5 million current and retired employees.

De León pitched the measure as a way to emphasize more secure, environmentally friendly investments.

"Coal is a losing bet for California retirees and it’s also incredibly harmful to our health and the health of our environment," he said in a statement.

In response to the news, executive director of 350.org  May Boeve, whose group has led the charge for institutional divestment, championed the effort in California.

"This is a big win for our movement, and demonstrates the growing strength of divestment campaigners around the world," said Boeve. "California’s step today gives us major momentum, and ramps up pressure on state and local leaders in New York, Massachusetts, and across the U.S. to follow suit—and begin pulling their money out of climate destruction too."

Though the development was welcome, Boeve said there was still plenty more that Gov. Brown and lawmakers across the country must do in order to be considered "part of the solution" when it comes to the climate crisis.  For Brown, she said, it's time "to keep building on today’s news, and take every possible step to prevent climate catastrophe—including divesting California from oil and gas, and banning extreme energy extraction techniques like fracking."

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.