The Environmental Affairs Board is currently lobbying the Associate Students Senate to endorse a campaign requesting that the campus make divestments from fossil fuel-based companies.
Similar campaigns have been organized across the UC system, with numerous university campuses taking a stand against corporations centered around fossil fuels. Ultimately, the students and other supporters involved in these efforts hope to gain the approval of the UC Board of Regents in endorsing a system-wide movement.
Fourth-year environmental studies major Emily Williams, who is campus coordinator of statewide affairs for EAB, said the group first introduced the proposal at last Wednesday’s A.S. Senate meeting. However, due to opposition from many A.S. members, the resolution was postponed until a later meeting.
Williams said she hopes to gain student support in lobbying for the movement, allowing UCSB to join almost 200 universities and colleges across the U.S.
“There’s nothing else in the policy that says how we should invest our money other than to maximize the profit and minimize the risk, and to me that seems wrong,” Williams said. “If we claim to be sustainability-focused and if we claim to be progressive, how can we be invested in an industry making profit off the suffering of others and the degradation of our environment?”
UC campuses divested from Sudan during the genocide as well as from South Africa during apartheid, so it would seem appropriate to essentially boycott fossil fuel-based companies, which inflict on public health and the environment, according to Williams, who added that fossil fuel divestments particularly affect people in communities near natural gas or coal processing plants.
In regards to last week’s Senate meeting, UCSB sociology professor and co-director of the International Institute of Climate Action and Theory John Foran said the petition aims to address a multifaceted issue with far-reaching effects that are not apparent at first glance.
“This is an education process,” Foran said. “It’s not an easy issue to get your head around — it’s something that’s very huge. It’s in many ways invisible, and in many ways it’s coming at us from the future.”
Foran also said the marginal financial effect posed by divestment pales in comparison to the looming catastrophe that could result from fossil fuel-induced climate change.
“There is a limit of carbon dioxide we can afford to put into the atmosphere,” Foran said. “The existing proven [carbon dioxide] reserves of the fossil fuel industry are five times the amount that will push us over the limit.”
According to Williams, the campaign could take time to catch on due to the technical complexity of the proposal, which includes terms such as “endowments” and “marginalized risks.” Despite this, Williams said he hopes that even schools that have partially divested from fossil fuels should be praised for sparking the conversation about the movement on campus.
“I think once people get to know, ‘Okay, we’re just talking about investments in an industry,’ people get very passionate about it,” Williams said. “I can see the campus getting really riled up — students, faculty and staff — I see them talking together … Let’s work with the Regents.”
Foran said many adversaries of environmental reform lack credibility because they skew information to fit their own agenda.
“There are going to be people trying to scare others, and that’s really the only argument they have,” Foran said. “We know that the fossil fuels industry has a well-documented record of countering any criticism, and they’ll do that by any means necessary … to distort facts and to lie outright.”
According to Foran, the UC is not deliberately invested in the fossil fuels industry and thus, its progressive image will not be marred with divestment. In reference to an article by Chief Investing Officer Patrick Geddes of the Californian money management firm Aperio Group including a study indicating a negligible effect on UC revenue in the case of fossil fuel divestment, Foran said pointing out environmental issues without action would be “hypocritical.”
“In some of the studies I’ve seen — and I’m sure we’ll see more studies — [fossil fuel divestment] makes very little impact on the portfolio,” Foran said. “It doesn’t harm the holdings of the university and it doesn’t therefore go against any responsibilities of the investment people to maximize income — I’m talking percentages of a percent.”
According to UCSB philosophy graduate student and environmental studies teaching assistant Quentin Gee, the UC system as a whole has slipped from its place at the leading edge of responsible investing.
“Universities have actually gone from being the leaders of responsible investing to sort of following on the coattails of other foundations,” Gee said. “We just want the investment group that the Regents oversee to think creatively.”
Gee also said several smaller colleges have managed to divest and even larger institutions such as Harvard University have been active about putting the issue on the table.
“Even though you can make money off of something that is fundamentally unsustainable and detrimental to our health, population and environment … doesn’t mean you should,” Gee said.
EAB’s fossil fuel focus group plans to host a teach-in to further inform students about the divestment campaign sometime in the upcoming month.