Rally on Sproul Plaza calls on UC to divest from fossil fuel companies

Arya Aliabadi/Staff

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About 45 people gathered on Sproul Plaza’s Mario Savio Steps at 12:30 p.m. Thursday for a rally that called on the university to divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies worldwide.

Led by Fossil Free Cal, a student-run campaign seeking to tackle climate change, the rally was part of a universitywide coordinated day of action called the “Fossil Future Haunting” that asks the UC Board of Regents to halt new investments and divest funds from these companies within five years.

Other UC campuses that participated include UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, UCLA and UC Davis, said Fossil Free Cal student organizer Becca Rast.

“We want to get the university to really stand up for the students and the future of the students — the students going to Cal right now will be dealing with the hard effects of climate change,” said Victoria Fernandez, another student organizer working with the campaign.

Some dressed in white sheets as “ghosts of a fossil-fueled future,” and others held signs. Together, they chanted slogans such as “fossil fuels have got to go.”

According to UC spokesperson Dianne Klein, the UC system has no plans to divest from fossil fuel companies, which provide “considerable” income to the university.

“This issue, like most, is not black and white,” Klein said. “Fossil fuel companies are among those that are investing heavily in research on alternative and green-energy projects.”

Berkeley College Republicans President Brendan Pinder warned that “we should be wary of the extent to which we gamble student funds to make political statements.”

Speakers at the rally included ASUC Executive Vice President Nolan Pack, CalPIRG campus organizer Corie Radka and a slam poetry performance by “Sustainable John,” a UC Berkeley graduate student.

“It’s an immense contradiction for a university that promises a bright future to be simultaneously fueling an industry that is destroying it,” Pack said. “It is a myth that fossil fuel companies are the most profitable way to invest our money.”

Katie Hoffman, campaign director at the California Student Sustainability Coalition and a former UC Berkeley student, also collaborated with students on the event. She wrote a spring 2013 referendum calling for the university to divest from the fossil fuel industry that passed with 73 percent of the vote.

Steven Weissman, director of the energy program at UC Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment, said investors should be able to avoid fossil fuel companies and still maintain a robust portfolio.

“There’s been more of an effort in the past couple of decades to develop mutual funds and other strategies that avoid investments in some of the traditional energy companies,” Weissman said. “Some of these mutual funds have tended to be stable and profitable.”

Contact Jessie Lau at [email protected].