On Feb. 26, members of Fossil Free UC met with the UC Regents’ Committee on Investments (COI) to present evidence on the case for full fossil fuel divestment. The word “met” is perhaps an overstatement. Meet implies engagement, dialogue or even a short sharp exchange of opinions. Instead, it may be more accurate to say that representatives of Fossil Free UC were begrudgingly invited to present to the COI after having been denied several formal meetings. Regent Paul D. Wachter, former chair of the COI, vaguely acknowledged our presence, but merely noted that divestment conversations were hard and that UC was already doing more than most universities on issues of climate change. The actual substance of our arguments were (again) largely ignored. Since Fossil Free first brought divestment to the Regent’s attention, interactions with them have followed the same trend. But time and patience are running out — Fossil Free has been shut out of too many so-called meetings and have been ignored too many times. The democratic channels open for students to communicate with our Regents are rapidly being shut down. In a choice between a stable future for young people and frontline communities or a rogue fossil fuel industry, UC students ask the newly appointed COI chair, Regent Richard Sherman: Whose side are you on?
But time and patience are running out — Fossil Free has been shut out of too many so-called meetings and have been ignored too many times.
The Fossil Free campaign, calling upon universities and institutions in the public eye to divest from the 200 most polluting fossil fuel companies, has encountered enormous support both on UC campuses and globally. Since the campaign began in 2012, over 500 institutions have fully or partially divested from fossil fuels, totalling $3.4 trillion worth of assets being withheld from coal and/or oil and gas companies. The campaign is supported by a wide cross-section of society from communities fighting on the frontlines of fossil fuel extraction to Leonardo DiCaprio to the Governor of the Bank of England. Meanwhile, UCSB’s Associated Students senate and Academic Senate have passed resolutions calling on the UC Regents to divest from fossil fuels in addition to resolutions passed by student governments across the UC system. Largely thanks to student pressure, in September 2015, the UC Committee on Investments announced that it had divested from coal and tar sands companies. The announcement was an incredible vindication of Fossil Free’s efforts and is a promising start, but it is not enough. Oil and gas companies continue to wreak havoc in California, and it is morally unconscionable for our university to continue funding climate denial and environmental injustice. By investing in dirty, outdated fossil fuels, the UC is contributing to an inequitable and uninhabitable world and allying itself with companies that create and perpetuate social and environmental injustice.
Largely thanks to student pressure, in September 2015, the UC Committee on Investments announced that it had divested from coal and tar sands companies.
That is why Fossil Free UC is giving the Regents one last chance to choose to side with students and our future, with frontline communities and their livelihoods in California and with the right side of history. This month, Wachter is stepping down from his position as chair of the COI and Sherman is set to take his place. At this moment, we see a golden opportunity for Regents and the COI to turn over a new leaf, to hear their students and the overwhelming evidence showing fossil fuel divestment to be financially sensible, scientifically necessary and morally imperative. Today, we are calling upon Sherman, the new chair on the Committee of Investments, to be the climate champion this university desperately needs, and to release a statement pledging his commitment to full fossil fuel divestment.
For three years, Fossil Free UC has patiently brought the question of divestment to the Regents time and again, and time again they have been sidelined or ignored. The campaign has tried talking, but the Regents do not engage. More importantly, the urgency of climate change demands rapid action, and those on the frontlines do not have time to wait for more meetings. Therefore, alongside the call for a statement from Sherman, Fossil Free will be launching the Non-Violent Direct Action pledge. Over the coming months, Fossil Free will be signing up hundreds of students across the UC system who are prepared to take direct action to the next level. If nothing is heard from Sherman, Fossil Free will begin recruiting students throughout the UC system to pledge their support for direct action.
From the Chevron refinery in Richmond to the fracking fields in Kern County to the gas leak at Porter Ranch to the drought engulfing the entire state, people are struggling here on the frontlines of the climate crisis and fossil fuel extraction. Our livelihoods, our health and our very future are threatened by the reckless intentions of the fossil fuel industry. The UC’s investments are fuelling that threat. In Paris, delegates from every country on Earth pledged to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, the UC Regents have assured California and the world that our university will go 100 percent carbon neutral by 2025. Neither will keep their promises if they continue to invest in and support companies directly responsible for the climate crisis.
In May of last year, the Santa Barbara community experienced its worst oil spill since 1969. The oil washing up on our beaches belonged to none other than ExxonMobil, the oil giant currently under federal investigation for having lied to the public about climate change for 30 years. The UC still invests in Exxon and, in this way, helped pay for our oil spill. If you think it is time for the UC to sever links with the industry, join Fossil Free UCSB at the Arbor where we’ll most likely be signing up supporters for direct action next quarter.