May 17, 2016 (San Diego) UC San Diego’s Academic Senate today announced the passage of a resolution calling on the UC Regents to divest the University of California’s investment portfolio of stocks in companies whose primary business concerns the extraction and sale of fossil fuels. According to its 1868 charter, governance of the University is shared between the Regents and the Academic Senate. The vote by tenure-track faculty and academic leadership took place electronically over a two week period ending May 11.
The resolution recognizes the threat of global warming and UCSD’s pioneering contribution to climate science. It also acknowledges the risk to the UC endowment and pension funds from the prospect of falling fossil fuel stocks. The resolution comes less than a year after the California legislature required that California’s huge State pension funds CalPERS and CalSTRS divest from coal stocks. These funds had lost $840M from coal stocks last fiscal year, and $5.1B in fossil fuel stocks overall. UCvoluntarily followed suit in divesting from coal and tar sands, while reserving the right to re-invest in coal and tar sands in the future and, meanwhile continuing to invest in other fossil fuels.
Prof. Eric Halgren, who led the Fossil Free UCSD effort to bring the resolution to a faculty vote, was encouraged. “We must build a global consensus behind becoming fossil free in the next 20 years if we want to avoid flooding major cities, massive famines, and mass extinctions. And it was UCSD scientists who discovered that fossil fuel burning is causing climate change and needs to end. This means that fossil fuel stocks are overpriced. Thus, the Faculty voted to protect both our retirement investments, and our planet’s future.”
In voting to support the resolution, UCSD faculty joined a growing movement across the nation. In California, the Associated Students of all nine of the UC campuses have passed similar resolutions, as have the faculty at UC Santa Barbara and the UCSD Graduate Students Association. Student demonstrations, sit-ins, and in some cases, civil disobedience have taken place at Stanford, Columbia, MIT, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, and the University of Massachusetts- Amherst. Just last week over 20 students sat in at the UC investments office, leading Regent Richard Sherman, chair of the Regents Committee on Investments, to say that he “embraces our cause”.
Erin McMullen and Mukta Kelkar are undergraduate students at UCSD and Directors with the UCSD Student Sustainability Collective, which began the fossil fuel divestment campaign at UCSD in 2012, worked to pass a similar resolution through the Associated Students in 2013, and supported the faculty (Academic Senate) resolution campaign. They applauded the vote, saying “It’s impactful to have our faculty institutionally show support for student-initiated campaigns such Fossil Free UCSD, part of a broader strategic university divestment campaign. Many students firmly believe that our tuition needs to go towards creating a more sustainable and socially just world for ourselves and future generations, and so it is exciting to see UCSD faculty agree with us.”
Prof. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a member of the National Academy of Sciences for his work in climate science, and well-known for his working with the Pope and other religious groups to raise awareness of the moral dimensions of climate change, said “Most greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have come from the wealthy one billion people in the world, but the worst consequences such as droughts, flooding, famine and disease from climate disruption will be borne by the poorest three billion in the world. We have a moral duty to our fellow humans, as well as future generations, to bend the global warming curve now while we still have a chance to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.”
Prof. Jeffrey Severinghaus, also a member of the National Academy of Sciences for his work in climate science, said “UCSD is where climate science got started and we’re proud to be home to some of the world’s best climate scientists. We’re also national leaders in sustainability, and have a commitment to become a carbon-neutral campus by 2025. Carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere now from fossil fuel burning is a time bomb with a 100 year fuse. Climate science tells us that we must act now to prevent future disasters.”
Initially, some faculty members strongly supported actions to address climate change but were concerned that divestment would adversely affect their retirement. However, when they investigated, they found that coal, oil and gas stocks have been plummeting, and have already lost UC funds millions. Portfolios containing fossil fuel stocks do worse than the market as a whole, and their performance will decline even more as we transition to clean energy. Ultimately, many faculty concluded that divestment is the safer course financially, especially given the calculations of UCSD scientists demonstrating that fossil fuel assets cannot be burned if catastrophic climate change is to be avoided.
“It was great to work with my UCSD community to take this important step for our students and our planet,” said Brynn Craffey, a recent retiree who helped coordinate the divestment campaign. “After 17 years as a UC employee, it’s rewarding to see faculty striving side by side with students and staff to do the right thing.”
Ethan Ma, a UCSD freshman who helped contact faculty members through flyers and posters said, “Climate change is one of the most pressing issues for this generation and future ones, so I felt compelled to support this campaign. I am grateful to our faculty for standing by us and calling for fossil fuel divestment. I hope the UC sees the need to divest now and acts on this quickly.”
Prof. Adam Aron said it was important for faculty to show moral leadership. “In the name of social justice, UC faculty prevailed upon the school to divest from apartheid South Africa in the 1980s. That was an important component of consciousness-raising and pressure that ultimately led to change. Similarly, there is a question of justice about divesting our funds from fossil fuel companies: for people in low-lying countries, for those most vulnerable to extreme droughts and the wars arising from them, and generally, for all those who will suffer because the rich world has massively polluted for over two hundred years”.
Eric Halgren added, “Our next step is to urge faculty at other UC campuses to join us – and the students – in calling on the UC Regents to divest. This divestment campaign is about helping people to realize that keeping carbon in the ground is both a moral imperative and makes good economic sense. I hope that UC takes a leadership role in building the essential societal consensus for a fossil free future.”
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Fossil Fuel Divestment Resolution
UCSD Academic Senate
Whereas, global warming due to carbon emissions is a profound threat to the suitability of our planet for our descendants and other species, and effective actions against global warming are currently blocked in the United States by massive political contributions of fossil fuel corporations;
Whereas, fossil fuel stocks may further fall in value if proven reserves must remain in the ground in order to meet the goals of the Paris conference;
In view of the pioneering research by UCSD faculty in discovering and documenting the scientific basis of global warming;
Notwithstanding the exemplary leadership of the University of California, its President, Faculty and Staff in committing to a carbon-free and sustainable future;
We, the faculty of the San Diego Divisional Senate respectfully request the Regents to instruct the UC Chief Investment Officer to divest our investment portfolio of stocks in companies whose primary business concerns the extraction and sale of fossil fuels.