We Demand a Fossil Free UC

University must divest

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Illustration by Franky Olivares.

You can do a lot with $2.6 billion. Killing the planet shouldn’t be at the top of that list, but that’s right where the UC places it. 

Even at the brink of climate collapse, the UC refuses to sever ties with the fossil fuel industry. UC’s $2.6 billion invested in the industry is testament to its heartless, capitalist priorities. 

It’s old news that the fossil fuel industry is largely responsible for climate change. When the UC profits off this industry, it profits off climate change.

Our so-called progressive university flaunts cutting-edge climate research, a shiny distraction for its shadowy investment portfolio. The UC creates localized goals to cut back emissions, but fails to distance itself from the emissions industry. Time and again, the UC proves its hypocrisy.

The deadline for fossil fuel divestment is overdue. For seven years, student organizers with Fossil Free UC have demanded divestment, it’s time for everyone to join the fight. The UC needs to put its money where its mouth is, stop perpetuating climate injustice and use its platform to make a statement the industry needs to hear. 

An investment in this industry isn’t an innocent financial venture, it’s the backing of injustices across the globe. For decades, climate scientists proved the massive environmental threat the fossil fuel industry posed. Others linked fossil fuel emissions and climate change impacts to issues of social justice. Low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by climate change, and corporations are most responsible. 

Many of these facts come from the UC’s very own faculty members. 

Across the UC, students have worked to bring the issue to the regents’ attention. They’ve garnered student, faculty and chancellor support. They’ve sat in at administrative buildings, marched across campuses, hosted teach-ins, phone banked and mailed letters. They speak at public comment periods during regents meetings and met with the UC’s chief investment officer. 

The regents and top UC administration know what divestment is. They know other universities are doing it to make a statement — 1,029 institutions across the globe are divesting a total of $8.05 trillion from the fossil industry. About 15 percent of them are educational institutions. 

If the UC divested, it wouldn’t be an unprecedented act. It wouldn’t make it the it the original authority on questioning authority, as UC Santa Cruz loves to promote. That ship sailed years ago. It would mean that 2019 would be the year the UC decided to prioritize scientists and student voices and the well-being of the planet. It would mean that it decided to value marginalized lives over its fiscal year statement. 

The UC knows from personal experience that divestment works. In 1986, the UC divested $1.7 billion from South African companies to combat Apartheid. The apartheid divestment movement was one aspect of social and economic pressure that led the regime to collapse in the early ’90s. Perhaps the UC doesn’t see climate change as an urgent issue of social justice. But all environmental issues are social issues. And they’re happening now. 

In the past year alone, we’ve witnessed dangerous climate events, like an extended fire season in California and deadly cold fronts in the midwest. We’ve seen the industry build oil pipelines on indigenous land and pollute low-income communities of color.

Climate change isn’t something we can afford to address tomorrow, divestment needs to happen today. 

The UC argues it’s not a financially sound decision to divest immediately. Economic viability of this decision isn’t the point. As a prominent institution of higher education, it should be quicker to move its money from the teetering oil industry. And when you do look at the money, the green energy industry is outcompeting the fossil fuel industry, so divestment does make sense. 

The UC must use its position of power to send a bold message to the fossil fuel industry, to stand for what is right. 

But the regents likely won’t make a moral decision unless pressed by the students they represent. University affiliates should demand, unwavering, the UC divest from fossil fuel companies. As students, we can join Fossil Free UC. Adding people to the campaign will add pressure to the regents. Call the office of the president, write a letter, post about the movement on social media and demand divestment. 

It’s time for a new UC. A UC that stands with students, not corporations. Fossil fuels aren’t the future, and with them we might not see one. 


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