100 students, supporters of fossil fuel divestment rally on streets, at ASUC Senate meeting

Students and community members involved with Fossil Free Cal rallied at the ASUC Senate meeting Wednesday evening.
Michael Drummond/Senior Staff
Students and community members involved with Fossil Free Cal rallied at the ASUC Senate meeting Wednesday evening.

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Update 11/13/2014: This article has been updated to reflect an interview with UC spokesperson Brooke Converse. 

Approximately 100 students and community members rallied at an ASUC Senate meeting Wednesday evening during a nighttime march urging the UC Board of Regents to divest funds from fossil fuel companies.

Fossil Free Cal, the group that organized the march, is the campus branch of Fossil Free UC, a UC-wide coalition that aims to raise awareness about the dangers of fossil fuels as well as pressure the regents to vote for full divestment of fossil fuel funds.

The group began its march at 9 p.m. at the intersection of Bancroft Way and Telegraph Avenue and continued on to the senate meeting before marching to Unit 1, Unit 2 and Kroeber Fountain.

“We were able to inspire freshmen to get involved and to take action,” said Haley Broder, an ASUC senator.

Broder added that the ASUC is in full support of divestment and had previously approved a bill calling for divestment in February.

The regents addressed the issue of divestment during a meeting in September, stating that a task force was created by UC President Janet Napolitano and board Chair Bruce Varner in June to respond to growing interest in the university’s investments in fossil fuels.

The task force recommended that the UC chief investment officer “establish and implement a framework for sustainable investment,” as well as allocate $1 billion toward “solutions-oriented investments” such as renewable power and sustainable agriculture. After the September meeting, the regents voted to maintain their investments in fossil fuel companies.

Additionally, the task force urged continued discussion of the issue at Napolitano’s Global Climate Leadership Council, an advisory group that guides the university’s sustainability efforts.

Members of the task force, however, opposed advocating immediate divestment from fossil fuel holdings, which account for $10 billion in assets.

“Depending on the market positions at the time of any total divestment, it could mean a substantial loss, which would directly affect funding for pensions and the student experience at UC,” said UC spokesperson Brooke Converse in an email.

Ernie Artiz, a UC Berkeley graduate student, said divestment is a “central message” for change. The regents, he said, must respect that “student voices are the lifeblood of the campus.”

Julian Lake, a UC Berkeley senior, said efforts from the regents had not yet come into fruition and that simply researching the problem would not yield any results.

“(The regents) haven’t given serious thought to the issue,” Lake said.

Converse said in an email that as a part of implementing an “environmental, social and governance” framework, there is “indeed a possibility” that the university decides to sell fossil fuel assets.

In May, Stanford University, which has a $21.4 billion endowment fund, announced it would not continue investment in coal mining companies.

Broder said that Wednesday’s march sought to remind the regents about issues at hand prior to their meeting next week, though they will mainly focus on issues of tuition increase proposals and long-term financial planning.

“We hope that the regents will take notice and see the power of student action,” said Victoria Fernandez, a UC Berkeley senior and co-founder of Fossil Free Cal. “We’re more energized and showing them our power.”

Contact Adrienne Shih at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @adrienneshih.