UC Berkeley students and alumni took a stand against UC investment in fossil fuels by staging an all day sit-in Wednesday at the UC Office of Investments in Oakland.
The sit-in was coordinated by the campus organization Fossil Free Cal, which requests that the University of California divest entirely from the fossil fuel industry. The protesters refused to leave the site until 5:30 p.m., when they were given confirmation of a meeting next week to discuss divestment with UC Regent Richard Sherman, vice chair of the UC investments committee.
“We think that fossil fuel divestment is a really important step for delegitimizing the fossil fuel industry,” said outgoing ASUC Senator Wes Adrianson at the sit-in. “Our university system should not be part owners (of) the destruction of the earth.”
The seven-hour sit-in began at 10 a.m., when about 20 protesters arrived unannounced at the UC Office of Investments — where they tweeted, live-streamed on Facebook and, when possible, studied for final exams.
Out of the university’s $10 billion investment in energy, $3 billion is invested in companies with high fossil fuel reserves within that sector, UC spokesperson Dianne Klein told The Daily Californian in 2014.
Fossil Free groups at UCLA, UC Santa Barbara and UC Santa Cruz all displayed banners on their campuses to show solidarity with the sit-in. The groups at UC Santa Barbara and UC Santa Cruz have also planned to take direct action later in May.
The sit-in came after the Global Climate 500 Index ranked the university first among all universities worldwide in incorporating climate change risks in its investment decision making.
“We’ve been calling on (Sherman) all semester,” said campus junior and Fossil Free Cal member Claire Morrison, regarding the group’s efforts to open up dialogue on divestment. “He’s been unresponsive until today when we amped up the pressure a little bit.”
Three members of Fossil Free Cal met earlier in the afternoon with the UC Chief Investment Officer Jagdeep Singh Bachher, which was the first step toward getting Sherman to meet with the members, Morrison said.
“The University of California shares their concerns about the need to address climate change,” said UC spokesperson Kate Moser in an email. “The University … has committed to invest $1 billion in climate change solutions over the next five years.”
Security officers in the building closed elevators at 5 p.m., preventing protesters from going upstairs where the rest of the group was still staging the sit-in. Eleven individuals remained in the building lobby, where they sang and displayed signs.
“What I’m seeing here, this is where the real teaching and learning is happening,” said graduate student Vanessa Raditz, a protester who has been a graduate student instructor for a campus environmental justice course.
UC Santa Barbara graduate student Theo LeQuesne, a member of Fossil Free UCSB, said he would like to see the university reinvest its funds into communities that have been most negatively impacted by fossil fuel extraction and climate change.
“Climate change is inherently tied to issues of labor — issues of labor rights — issues of racism and imperialism,” said Todd Lu, a UCLA junior and co-chair of Fossil Free UCLA. “People who are contributing most to climate change are not going to be the ones to feel the worst effects.”
According to Morrison, the funds should be reinvested in non-exploitative industries after divesting from fossil fuels.
“Sherman has a choice,” Morrison said. “Between standing with exploitation or a future where every life is valuable and where everyone has access to healthy resources.”