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A guide to fossil fuel divestment

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FEBRUARY 28, 2013

I’m not pro-ASUC. Whenever I hear the latest drama from the ASUC Senate, I sigh and wonder if any of the bills they pass will actually change the way our university functions. I recognize this is unfair for those students involved in the student government, who I know work very hard. However, I also know that many of my fellow Bears would agree that there is a disconnect between what happens in the senate chambers and what we as students feel that we need.

So when I heard about a bill the senate recently passed to divest its funds from fossil fuel companies and encourage the university do the same, I pushed aside my distaste for campus politics to learn more about what it really means to divest from an industry and what difference this would mean to our student body.

I first wanted to know why divestment was seen as a useful tool for making our university more environmentally conscious. CalSERVE Senator and executive vice president candidate Nolan Pack, co-sponsor of the bill, noted that fossil fuels not only negatively impact the environment but disproportionately affect people of color and low-income populations, as can be seen in communities such as Richmond. Katie Hoffman, the chief of staff for the Student Environmental Resource Center and a major proponent of the bill, said her focus was to hold UC Berkeley accountable for its investment portfolio and how that in turn reflects upon our university’s commitment to environmental excellence.

“Cal has ambitious goals for moving to zero waste by 2020, but this will never be achievable if the university’s endowment is invested in companies that profit from destroying our planet,” she said to me in an email. And she makes a good point. We as a university pride ourselves on our environmental initiatives, and although we have made strides in reducing our waste through compost and installing water refill stations, among other projects, it’s hard to distinguish how much of that is done for show.

But will the senate bill actually lead to change? Pack assured me that my vision of students huddled over receipts and investment portfolios isn’t accurate and that the process is a relatively simple one.

“As soon as we send notice of the newly implemented investment restrictions to Union Bank and the Boston Trust, the process of divesting should be fairly efficient. As long as all parties are cooperative and ASUC officials aren’t sending conflicting information, we should be fully divested before the end of the semester,” Pack said in an email.

And while the ASUC is notorious for petty, partisan bickering, I imagine that this divestment will be fairly painless. Additionally, Hoffman assured me that SERC and other environmental orgs on campus are working closely with the ASUC to ensure that this divestment is completed in a timely manner.

However bright and dandy this seems, UC divestment is another game entirely. While Berkeley is certainly not a leader in fossil fuel research and development, I can only see divestment as a viable option if there is a sustained student voice demanding that our university adopt investment practices that we as students can back. But we aren’t alone in our fight. Two other UC student governments ⏤ at UC Santa Barbara and UC San Diego⏤ have pledged to divest as well. Google fossil fuel divestment, and you can see pages and pages of other student groups from around the country attempting to do the same thing. This is an encouraging and powerful step in highlighting the importance of college students as a meaningful demographic.

We as college students also have a collective responsibility to fight for our future, as we will be the next generation of leaders, innovators and policymakers. Some have said that fossil fuels are a profitable investment and that therefore we should not divest completely, given the current economic climate. However, for every dollar of our money that we invest in fossil fuel, we are actively divesting from our future. I would rather pay a bit more now to ensure that we have a future that is worth living in.

Contact Carli Baker at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @carliannebaker.

MARCH 01, 2013