Fossil Free Cal camps outside California Hall, demands Dirks’ support for fossil fuel divestment

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Fossil Free Cal, an environmental advocacy group on campus, staged an overnight campout in an effort to convince Chancellor Nicholas Dirks to publicly support its demand for the University of California to divest from fossil fuel companies.

Seven students, five of whom are members of the group, spent the night outside California Hall, camping from 7 p.m. Wednesday night to 10 a.m. Thursday morning.

Activists from the student community and the Bay Area spoke about the urgent need of mitigating climate change throughout the event, and the demonstration culminated in a “Breakfast for Divestment” that the group hoped Dirks would attend.

In a meeting with Fossil Free Cal on March 20, Dirks declined to support the group’s calls for fossil fuel divestment. Jake Soiffer, a campus sophomore and spokesperson for the group, said the campout represented an escalation of the group’s effort to demand Dirks’ and the administration’s support. Student groups at other schools, including Harvard University, Bowdoin College, Yale University and Swarthmore College, have staged similar protests in recent months.

UCPD spokesperson Lt. Marc DeCoulode said that police had been in touch with the group prior to the event and that their activities stayed within campus guidelines.

“They were very cooperative,” DeCoulode said. “Hopefully, they got their message out.”

UC Berkeley students passed a referendum in 2013 that called for universitywide divestment from fossil fuels. The ASUC has itself divested its investment funding from fossil fuel companies and called on the university to follow suit. In addition, the Graduate Assembly and UC Berkeley Faculty Association have both indicated their support for fossil fuel divestment. Advocates for fossil fuel divestment, however, have yet to find an ally in the campus administration.

“UC Berkeley currently supports a wide range of research efforts that seek new, sustainable sources of energy that could one day serve as substitutes for fossil fuels,” said campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore in an email. “This, in our opinion, is a far more effective strategy for addressing the threats posed by global climate change.”

After protests by Fossil Free Cal at a UC Board of Regents meeting last May, the regents committed to creating a task force to look into the feasibility of fossil fuel divestment. The task force ultimately did not take a stance on fossil fuel divestment.

Despite this and Dirks’ absence from the campout, Soiffer reiterated the group’s commitment to mobilizing student support for fossil fuel divestment.

“We’ve realized that we won’t make progress by just talking to the regents or administration and participating in their bureaucratic structures,” Soiffer said, adding that Dirks’ failure to agree to their demands would spur future action.

“We are ready to escalate and do what is necessary,” he said.

Contact Ishaan Srivastava at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ishaansriv.

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