ASUC bill calls for divestment from fossil fuels

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The ASUC Senate unanimously approved a bill at a meeting Wednesday ordering the divestment of its funds from fossil fuel companies while encouraging other institutions of higher education to follow suit.

The bill — SB 10 —  binds the ASUC to complete the withdrawal of any of its $3 million in total investments from fossil fuel companies. CalSERVE Senator Nolan Pack, an author of the bill, said he sought to use UC Berkeley’s position as a global leader to curb the effects of climate change. SB 10 was supported by a coalition of campus environmental groups and Cal Berkeley Democrats.

The bill is part of a wider movement at universities across the nation to support divestment from fossil fuel companies by institutions of higher education.

Senator Sadia Saifuddin, chief of the senate finance committee, was unsure of how the ASUC would logistically divest from fossil fuel companies, saying that the senate would discuss that now that the bill has passed.

According to a press release, divestment would most likely involve requesting managers of the ASUC’s funds, such as the Boston Trust & Investment Management Company and Union Bank, to move investments out of fossil fuel companies.

While acknowledging that investments in fossil fuels tended to yield the highest returns, Pack said that divesting from fossil fuels was not inherently risky and that strong profits could be made in an environmentally friendly way.

“Social responsibility does not have to be unprofitable,” Pack said. “I don’t think the two have to be mutually exclusive.”

Senator Nils Gilbertson, who abstained from voting on the bill, acknowledged that climate change was a problem but said that it was important to maintain maximum profitability.

“They’re thinking about it more idealistically, while I’m thinking about it in a more pragmatic way,” he said, referring to the other senators. “It’s not clear that the long-term benefits are going to be worth all the short-term problems this may cause for students.”

According to UC spokesperson Dianne Klein, the university treasurer’s office makes decisions regarding investment policy, and any action toward divestment must be voted on by the regents.

“If there’s a good reason, then it happens, regardless of the financial consequences to the university,” Klein said. “We’ve made the decision to divest before, from apartheid South Africa and from tobacco.”

Pack said that he was unsure of how much of the UC system’s estimated $70 billion endowment was invested in fossil fuel companies, adding that increasing transparency is another action he urged the university to take.

Jeremy Gordon covers higher education. Contact him at [email protected].