It’s time to fully divest from fossil fuels

Jake Moore/Staff

On Feb. 26, students from Fossil Free UC met with the UC Regents’ Committee on Investments in Los Angeles to present the case for full divestment from the fossil fuel industry.

With the winds of the Paris COP21 talks in December behind the environmental movement’s back, the students were optimistic that the meeting could be a turning point for the university’s relationship with the toxic fossil fuel industry. After all, the effects of climate change are already ravaging communities both on a local and global scale.

2015 was the hottest year on record, and 2016 will likely only be warmer.

Now isn’t the time for idleness.

Unfortunately, however, the students’ plea fell upon deaf ears. Regent Paul Wachter, in his last meeting as chair on the committee, responded vaguely to Fossil Free UC’s demands, calling divestment a “difficult issue” and saying that the UC has already done more than most schools with regards to climate change.

Over the past three years, Fossil Free UC has repeatedly brought up the question of divestment to the regents, and time and time again, we have been sidelined and ignored. Climate change and the resulting destruction of low-income communities of color doesn’t wait for the next noncommittal meeting or half-hearted pledge. It’s an issue that affects people’s lives today.

But there is still hope that the UC’s stance on divestment could change — and soon. Just this month, Regent Richard Sherman is taking over for Wachter as the new chair of the Committee on Investments, giving him huge amounts of power to make the changes we need.

Sherman can side with the global leaders of COP21, UC students, faculty and alumni by aligning UC investments with a just and sustainable future; or he can side with an increasingly obsolete fossil fuel industry by denying the UC of real climate leadership. UC students demand to know from Sherman: Whose side are you on?

By supporting divestment, Sherman would be joining a robust and growing social movement that has broad support from students, faculty and community members at UC Berkeley and other universities across the nation. Since the global fossil free campaign began in 2012, more than 500 institutions have fully or partially divested from fossil fuels, totalling $3.4 trillion worth of assets being withheld from coal and/or oil and gas companies.

UC students have repeatedly rallied the UC regents to set a precedent for ethical investments. In the 1980s, student protests successfully pressured the UC regents to divest $3.1 billion from companies doing business in apartheid South Africa. In 2001, the UC regents voted to permanently exclude investments into tobacco, citing financial risk and health effects of tobacco use. In 2006, UC students through the UC Sudan Divestment Task force convinced the regents to divest $2.6 billion from Sudanese companies with ties to the Darfur genocide. In this past year, students convinced the UC to divest $200 million from coal and tar sands companies and $30 million from private prisons.

Divestment from coal and tar sands is a start, but the UC still has billions invested in the top-200 fossil fuel companies. These oil and gas corporations continue to devastate California, and it is morally unconscionable for our university to continue funding climate denial and environmental injustice. The future that UC is supposed to be preparing us for is increasingly fragile and ignores the needs of those most impacted by climate change, which tend to be people of color and low-income communities. By investing in dirty, outdated fossil fuels, the UC is ignoring the intersectionality between environmental justice and social justice, and it is not creating space for an equitable and inhabitable world.

Additionally, it is hypocritical for the very university that teaches its students about the link between fossil fuels and climate change, the very university that is pushing to be carbon-neutral by 2025, to also invest in the companies responsible for the climate crisis.

Beyond that, investing in fossil fuels places the UC on top of a carbon bubble that is doomed to pop. Fossil fuel companies currently hold five times as much carbon in their reserves as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change deem as safe to burn. That means the UC is investing in companies with trillions of dollars in stranded assets and stocks that are doomed to collapse as the globe transitions to a less carbon-intensive economy.

It’s with these justifications in mind that Fossil Free UC demands Sherman to take a stand on divestment. Does he side with students, faculty alumni and the broader UC community or with an extractive and deadly industry that is destroying our future? For too long, the regents have been able to shirk their responsibility to UC students. There is too much at risk to do nothing so in the coming months, that is going to change.

Tyler Jacobson is a member of Fossil Free Cal.

Contact the Opinion Desk at [email protected] and follow us on Twitter at @dailycalopinion.

Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comment policy
  • lspanker

    Brilliant move during a time when energy stocks are going down due to the current oil glut on the market. No wonder the UC system is broke – the people insisting on selling off fossil fuels stocks in a “down” market are idiots.

  • ShadrachSmith

    Fossil fuels are why you don’t live in a mud and wattle hut. Your ignorance is profound. Can we talk about that?

  • Teddy Edwards

    Only the children of very rich parents favor university divestment of fossil fuels. You see, when you remove a major source of income to the university, the university must raise it’s tuition. Privileged, rich students — usually liberal — can afford to disregard the struggles of poor students and shoulder the higher tuition costs. When a poor student turns to his rich liberal peer and asks, “Why are you hurting me?”, the rich liberal student responds, “Someone must pay the price for what I want, and it might as well be you.”

    • Anirvan Chatterjee

      “Only the children of very rich parents favor university divestment of fossil fuels.”?

      I’ve met Bangladeshi landless peasants and fishermen who are seeing climate change help destroy their livelihoods. Those parents would *love* for us to quit investing in an industry that’s helping turn their children into climate refugees.

      Landless peasants in Bangladesh didn’t create catastrophic climate change — we did. (Americans are responsible for about a quarter of all historical GHG emissions.)

      I don’t know about you, but I believe that people should take responsibility for their actions.

      We need to stop investing in accelerants, if we we’re going to stop putting fuel in the fire.

      • Teddy Edwards

        This is “social justice” nonsense. “Climate refugees”? Seriously, dude? Your perspective is exactly the opposite of taking personal responsiblity.

        Climate change is the cause of everything, even crime, prostitution and terrorism.

        The terrorism connection, which blames the rise of ISIS on climate change in Syria, is particularly noteworthy because President Obama said earlier this year that climate change is a greater threat than terrorism.

        On a more fundamental level, the fanatic’s entire justification for radically altering society and destroying individual liberty and market freedom is founded not on actual empirical evidence, but on hypothetical computer models. Sure, fanatics insist “the science is settled” and there can be no more debate, but that Stalinist attitude is decidedly unscientific.

        Economists have professional experience building and using complex computer models. So, they know the outcomes depend greatly on the data one chooses to use and the rules one sets for how different data should interact in a simulation. Model results may not be borne out in reality for many reasons: One may insert errors, incorrect assumptions, or not even be aware of some key variables and how important they are.

        These problems plague even the simplest models developed by adept professionals. So it’s fantastic to think there’s a select set of human beings who can correctly code every single determinant of a system as massive, complex and interdependent as the global climate.

        After all, the most consequential determinants are celestial events like the Earth’s elliptical orbit or changes in solar cycles or flare activity, much of which physicists don’t yet fully understand. Then there are a myriad of Earth-based factors such as magma flows, heat circulation by oceans and air, effects of clouds and water vapor, degree of vegetation, and, yes, the composition of atmospheric gases.

        So, one can be sure there’s not a computer model that accurately simulates how all these millions of moving parts interact. Our skepticism is supported by the predictions of past models. For 25 years, we’ve heard dire pronouncements about these predictions, all while the actual record showed mild mid-20th Century warming has slowed down despite rapid growth in carbon-dioxide emissions. According to computer models, that shouldn’t happen, so human understanding of this topic is clearly not perfect.

        In fact, much of the hard, empirical evidence tells a vastly different story than the computer models behind which activists hide. Temperature records taken from ice cores, tree rings and other sources indicate that the Earth was warmer 1,000 years ago than it is today. They also indicate that higher carbon dioxide levels have historically followed rising temperatures instead of leading them. There’s debate as to why this is, but there are clearly disconnects between climate reality and virtual reality.

        This hasn’t stopped fanatics from demanding that governments of all nations immediately tax and regulate us all into oblivion or move toward Soviet-style command-and-control tactics. Even if there were a clear scientific consensus that human activity is contributing significantly to climate change and the experts’ simulations did match reality – and neither is the case – it wouldn’t mean we should all become socialists.

        Bjorn Lomborg is an environmentalist who believes human activity is changing the climate but has made enemies for himself by pointing out some truths inconvenient for fanatics. First, some warming might not be a bad thing, he notes, because longer growing seasons and less harsh winters are beneficial for human beings. Second, even if warming is a problem, there are far more cost-effective and humanly beneficial ways to address its impact than through destructive carbon taxes or cap-and-trade schemes – for example improving sanitation in the Third World to prevent malaria.

        Finally, the best way to deal with warming is through capitalism. The most carbon intensive countries aren’t wealthy Western nations, but failing socialist places such as China and India. As market institutions develop, nations become more efficient and less carbon intensive.

        If climate change is really the bogeyman you say, your fellow fanatics are nonetheless promoting very bad policy ideas.

        – Ron Knecht and Geoffrey Lawrence

      • lspanker

        I’ve met Bangladeshi landless peasants and fishermen who are seeing climate change help destroy their livelihoods.

        Please explain what “proof” you have that their livelihoods are being destroyed. There is no “catastrophic climate change” in progress, merely ongoing natural processes that have resulted in periodic changes in temperature, humidity and rainfall for millions of years.

        Americans are responsible for about a quarter of all historical GHG emissions.

        Americans are also responsible for feeding a lot of people in the world who can’t seem to figure out how to do it themselves. You want us to stop using oil for fuel and try to meet our energy needs with corn-based ethanol instead? Watch food prices for third-world people go even higher.

        • Teddy Edwards

          An eloquent rebuttal.

          Another point I’d like to make: Climate change is the Left’s inroad to redistribution of wealth. The issue was never real. It just needed to exist to justify the Government extricating the wealth of some to give to others, Often through “green companies” set up by “greedy” leftwing entrepreneurs who found a niche: the gullible young college student who desperately wants to “make a difference”.

Tags No tags yet