A referendum on the ballot in this year’s ASUC election calls for the University of California to divest its endowment funds from the fossil fuel industry.
The measure, if passed, will call for fossil fuel divestment on a universitywide scale and follows the ASUC’s approval of SB 10 in February, which required the ASUC to withdraw $3 million in fossil fuel investments, said ASUC Senator and executive vice presidential candidate Nolan Pack. Though the referendum calls for the both the University of California and UC Berkeley to divest, it remains unclear to what extent either would do so.
“UC Berkeley’s endowment is very nontransparent, so it’s hard for us, as the general public, to get that exact information about where the money is exactly being invested,” Pack, who authored the bill, said.
Regardless of the size of the UC system’s current and future investment in fossil fuel companies, however, the most significant impact of the bill will likely be symbolic.
“The reason that we’re doing divestment is because divestments have been used successfully to make political statements,” Pack said.
Secretary of Berkeley College Republicans Brendan Pinder said he believed there were potential problems with using funds to make political statements.
“As a public institution worrying about providing affordable education for its students, I think it’s a poor choice for the university to be gambling with funds to make a political statement,” Pinder said.
Lee Friedman, a professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy, agreed with Pinder about the measure’s lack of direct environmental impact but remained skeptical about concerns regarding the university’s potential loss of funds.
“Even if the university doesn’t want to hold (these fossil fuel stocks), there are billions of people around the world who will,” Friedman said. “(The university is) holding these because they think they will give them a good return. But is there anything else that can possibly give them a good return? Possibly yes.”
Despite uncertainty surrounding the measure’s potential impact, a coalition of student groups consisting of CalSERVE, the Student Environmental Resource Center, Fossil Free Cal, the ASUC Sustainability Team and the California Student Sustainability Coalition is supporting the bill by providing volunteers, publicity and funding.
“We, as the ASUC, lead by example, and so now with this referendum, we call upon the university to do the same,” Pack said.