Graduate Assembly votes in support of fossil fuel divestment

Student campaigns such as Fossil Free Cal, shown here at a protest on Sproul Plaza in October 2013, have been urging divestment from fossil fuel-related companies by the university. A Graduate Assembly resolution also calls for divestment by the campus and university.
Arya Aliabadi/File
Student campaigns such as Fossil Free Cal, shown here at a protest on Sproul Plaza in October 2013, have been urging divestment from fossil fuel-related companies by the university. A Graduate Assembly resolution also calls for divestment by the campus and university.

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Joining the worldwide movement to encourage socially responsible fiscal policies, the UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly voted Thursday to eschew its future investments in fossil fuel-related companies.

The assembly’s resolution, which parallels a similar bill passed by the ASUC Senate last February, also urges the campus and UC system to divest their funds from these companies.

“This (resolution) is a comprehensive approach,” said Keleigh Annau, environmental sustainability officer for the assembly. “We are effectively putting our money where our mouth is.”

The assembly has about $170,000 invested with the UC Berkeley Foundation, with plans to add another $300,000 by the end of the semester, according to Graduate Assembly Treasurer Olivier Bouan. Although Bouan said it is unclear how much, if any, of the funds are currently invested in fossil fuel-related companies, the resolution calls for the assembly to work with the foundation to develop a plan to end future investment of assembly funds in nearly 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies within five years.

Critics of the resolution feared that research funding from fossil fuel companies would dry up if funds were divested from them, Annau said.

“There’s no data to support the idea that (divestment) would harm research funding,” Annau said. “Just as easily that you could say divestment would turn off fossil fuel companies from research funding, you could just as well say that they would want to do research to improve their image.”

Although the assembly’s resolution calls on the university to divest its funds from fossil fuel-related companies, that decision is ultimately made by the UC Board of Regents, according to UC spokesperson Dianne Klein.

“Everybody has a voice — that’s what the Board of Regents is for,” Klein said. “We take into consideration all different voices.”

Klein noted that in the past, the UC system has pulled investments from controversial companies, such as tobacco-related businesses or those involved in South Africa during apartheid.

The assembly joins other student and faculty groups from across the UC system with similar investment intentions. Most UC undergraduate student governments have voted in favor of divesting from fossil fuel-related companies. UC Berkeley students passed a referendum in spring 2013 urging the campus and university to do the same.

“Folks need to build a movement in order for our politicians to respond,” said Ophir Bruck, an organizer with Fossil Free UC. “So divestment in that sense is a movement building tool. It’s rallying students across the nation.”

The worldwide fossil fuel divestment movement is spearheaded by 350.org, an organization working in countries worldwide to support sustainable energy movements.

“We are looking at getting these major institutions to think about aligning their investments with their promises to address climate change,” said Jay Carmona, national divestment campaign manager for 350.org, “and to use their power as institutions to support climate change instead of investing in future ecological destruction.”

Contact Mitchell Handler and Robin Simmonds at [email protected].

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