Fossil Free UC is a coalition of students, staff, and faculty with the mission of persuading the UC Board of Regents to fully divest the $3 billion it currently has invested in the top 200 fossil fuel companies. While there have been victories over the past five years of organizing — the most recent including the $500 million divestment from fossil fuel real assets, which are physical assets such as oil — we continue to advocate for a commitment to full divestment from UC Chief Investment Officer Jagdeep Singh Bachher. A commitment to full divestment would mean a commitment to creating a just and environmentally conscious future and inspiring social and institutional change while stigmatizing the fossil fuel industry. Divestment is a matter of not just social justice, but also ecological stewardship and economic competitiveness.
The fossil fuel industry disproportionately threatens indigenous communities and targets lower-income minority communities as locations for processing plants and transportation routes. This creates point pollution as well as air and water contamination that compromises access to a safe and equitable environment. Divestment is a matter of fighting for public health and ensuring a sustainable future for all, especially those who are already marginalized in numerous other ways. For example, Richmond, located right here in the Bay Area, suffers adverse health and lifestyle effects because of the pollution from the Richmond Chevron oil refinery. Primarily people of color live in the neighborhoods surrounding the refinery, and they are constantly exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide as well as flaring incidents in which toxic gases have been found to leak from the facility. The Chevron refinery has been fined multiple times because of system malfunctions and air pollution penalties; however, it continues to repeat the same mistakes and put community members at risk.
We are also organizing to protect our environment from the destructive impacts of enhanced oil recovery techniques, which include chemical flooding, gas injection and thermal recovery. These invasive tactics are used to force the maximum amount of oil from the earth and can have detrimental impacts on the environment through the contamination of groundwater and the disruption of surrounding ecosystems. The extraction and burning of fossil fuels contributes to climate change and extreme weather events, as well as ecosystem degradation. Our arguments are consistently met with counterpoints concerning the UC’s fiduciary duty to its stakeholders; however, it is important to keep in mind that fossil fuels are a high-risk investment and have been referred to by Bachher as “a financial risk we do not want to take.” In a long-term setting, fossil fuels have the possibility to produce low returns because of their cyclical market. Beyond economics, another major part of the goals of Fossil Free UC is informing fellow students, staff and primarily UC regents and investment partners that fossil fuels do not uphold the UC’s values of equity and sustainability and should therefore receive no university funds.
We at Fossil Free UC will continue to attend meetings and public comment and hold protests, marches, sit-ins and letter-writing campaigns until we have a commitment to full divestment. We are students, staff and faculty holding our institution accountable to ideals of social and climate justice.
Sierra Varano is a sophomore at UC Berkeley and member of Fossil Free UC.