Local, international activists speak on fossil fuel divestment

Nathaniel Solley/Staff

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Local and international climate justice activists shared their experiences in working toward divestment from the fossil fuel industry and advocated a “non-exploitative, low-carbon and equitable future” at a panel discussion Tuesday evening.

Hosted by Fossil Free Cal, a student-run campaign seeking to tackle climate change, the panel drew about 45 people to Barrows Hall and included four speakers from the US Africa Network and partner student organizations. The discussion came in the wake of a report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in March warning of extreme weather events such as heat waves, wildfires and flooding in North America — which could lead to negative health impacts and other problems — if global warming is not properly addressed.

One panelist, Mithika Mwenda, co-founder of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance in Kenya, said critical mass and unity must precede direct action in fossil fuel industry divestment.

“You have to acknowledge that if you operate in an isolated manner you are never going to succeed, because the forces against you are very strong,” Mwenda said. “So your strength can always be a combination of what she has, what I have, what you have, and then we complement each other.”

Panelists Emem Okon, founder of Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Centre in Nigeria, and Ragina Johnson from the International Socialist Organization in the Bay Area illuminated the abuse of women, minorities and people of color associated with fossil fuel extraction and called for a magnification of their voices. Gopal Dayaneni from Movement Generation in the Bay Area, the fourth panelist, talked about the intersection of the oil industry, militarism, racism and environmental degradation.

According to UC spokesperson Dianne Klein, the UC system has no current action pending for fossil fuel divestment. The university listens to student concerns, but the ultimate decision is made by the UC Board of Regents.

“We invest in what makes sense on returns, but also in morally and environmentally sustainable ways,” said Klein. “UC has divested from other companies like tobacco and firearms even though money is lost. Divestment is not unheard of, but it is a very considered decision.”

FFC campaigning led to an ASUC vote to divest its funds from fossil fuels in February 2013 and a Graduate Assembly vote to divest this February. It is currently working toward creating a divestment resolution for the UC Berkeley Academic Senate. UC Santa Barbara’s Academic Senate passed one in May 2013, and the UC-wide fossil free campaign aims to pass more across the UC system within the next year.

“We really see trying to take our money out of the fossil fuel industry as a tactic toward climate justice,” said UC Berkeley junior Victoria Fernandez, a co-founder of FFC. “(It) is basically looking to a future that has clean energy at its core and also a just economy where communities of color are not the ones bearing the burden of climate change effects.”

Contact Taryn Smith at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @tarynshelby.