Students campaign for fossil fuel divestment

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UC Berkeley students are calling for the university to divest from fossil fuel companies as part of a nationwide environmental campaign to stop climate change.

Environmental student groups have partnered with organizations such as 350.org in asking the campus administration to freeze any new investments in fossil fuel companies and to divest within five years from direct ownership of funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds.

“The big impact isn’t necessarily economic right away,” said Jamie Henn, communications director and co-founder of 350.org. “It would build up political momentum in climate change. If schools and then cities begin to divest, it would begin create real political pressure.”

Other schools, including Harvard University, Unity College and Hampshire College, have already taken steps to manage their investment portfolios according to the public interest. Harvard announced in December that it would establish a “social choice” fund that would take into account social responsibility in its investing activities.

According to Katie Hoffman, chief of staff of the Student Environmental Resource Center and a member of the campaign, UC Berkeley students first began a campaign to divest from coal companies in 2011 but failed to get the necessary resources and student interest to take off.

Hoffman says that the campaign will relaunch this semester with multiple events, including a student presentation at the February UC Board of Regents meeting and a planned conference in April for students across the state to discuss divestment.

“As the No. 1 public university in the world, we have the honor and the responsibility to lead the struggle to advance climate justice and promote mission-aligned investment that generates social, environmental and economically sustainable returns,” Hoffman said.

ASUC Senator Nolan Pack will also introduce a bill this week to divest ASUC holdings from fossil fuel companies within the next five years. He hopes to use this as a launching pad for future campuswide action and to garner student interest in the cause.

“It’s really important that all the universities push to divest university resources to keep companies from profiting by damaging the country,” Pack said.

According to Lisa McNeilly, director of the university’s Office of Sustainability, fossil fuel divestment would be difficult because university investing activities are managed by several different entities. Currently, the UC Berkeley Foundation and the Berkeley Endowment Management Company manage the campus’s endowment, while the UC Board of Regents manages the systemwide endowment.

Students from hundreds of colleges and universities across the nation have already joined the campaign to divest from fossil fuel companies. According to 350.org’s website, more than 200 schools have petitions calling for divestment.

Last November, more than 1,000 people attended a sold-out event at UCLA at which environmentalist Bill McKibben delivered a lecture on divestment as part of a nationwide tour.

Andrea Guzman covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected].

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