Campus groups continue legacy of environmental activism through lobbying, protests

Joshua Jordan/Senior Staff

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“Hey hey, ho ho, fossil fuels have got to go!”

These are the words that about 20 student protesters chanted as they toted a makeshift pipeline and marched through campus March 12, advocating for the divestment of UC endowment funds from fossil fuel companies. The protest was led by Fossil Free Cal, or FFC, a campus environmental group that protests for fossil fuel divestment through marches, sit-ins and petitions, according to campus junior Zachary Handler, the seniormost member of FFC.

Last year, FFC staged a sit-in at Sproul Hall to protest university investments in the Dakota Access Pipeline. Handler said the group specifically chose Sproul Hall as the protest venue to ensure that students would not be affected in the process.

“We decided Sproul Hall was a central location, and we wouldn’t be disrupting students that much because we’re not targeting students — we’re targeting the administration,” Handler said.

Handler said the group’s focus on fossil fuel divestment was a strategic approach to shifting the narrative around environmental issues, pointing toward UC Berkeley’s status as a potential source of influence.

“Divestments we see as an effective tactic to shift the narrative and shifting society broadly,” Handler said. “Berkeley has a lot of clout in the world as a whole, so if Berkeley said fossil fuels was a bad idea, there would be a lot more focus to combat global warming.”

Most of FFC’s work centers on specific “targets” such as the UC chief investment officer, the UC Board of Regents and members of the UC Berkeley administration, Handler said. He added that this year, the group succeeded in lobbying the chief investment officer into pledging a $500 million divestment from fossil fuel companies over the course of the next decade.

While some activists, such as Handler, push for change through protests and direct action, other students on campus have driven change from within the ASUC Senate.

One such student is ASUC Senator-elect Anna Whitney, who serves as the co-director of environmental and political engagement in current ASUC Senator Nina Jhunjhnuwala’s office.

Last semester, Whitney worked closely with FFC to organize protests and also helped coordinate a panel on sustainability policy, which took place Thursday. Whitney said she hopes to continue UC Berkeley’s legacy as a front-runner in environmental action during her term next year.

“I’m looking at seeing Berkeley become an even stronger leader on climate and showing that a major and prestigious research university can be successful with renewable energy,” Whitney said.

Beyond her campus-centered work in Jhunjhnuwala’s office, Whitney has also organized lobbying initiatives at the state level, such as email campaigns targeted toward state representatives. As an ASUC senator, she hopes to make environmental activism more accessible and encourage students to get involved with her office’s advocacy work.

“I definitely want to continue lobbying, definitely ramping it up on the state level,” Whitney said. “Tapping students into that would be really useful.”

In addition to individual senators advocating for environmental awareness on campus, the ASUC also houses a commission known as the Sustainability Team, or STeam, which implements “green” policies to make campus sustainability a reality, according to STeam co-chair Jaron Kaplan.

Most recently, Kaplan said STeam contributed to an ASUC Senate resolution, which was eventually passed, banning the use of plastic film-covered flyers — a popular recruiting tool among clubs at UC Berkeley.

“I know that one thing we pushed for was a ban for glossy flyers, because those cannot be recycled,” Kaplan said. “Lots of clubs love to have their glossy little flyers, but ASUC-funded clubs cannot use glossy flyers.”

Handler stressed that the environmental movement was driven by students and that any member of the UC Berkeley community could be a part of it.

“The movement is completely student-powered, and anyone can join and make an impact through it,” Handler said. “They shouldn’t be afraid to join in.”

Contact Miyako Iwata at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dailycalmiyako.