WHO are Fossil Free Cal? Fossil Free Cal is UC Berkeley’s branch of Fossil Free UC, a coalition of students, alumni, faculty, and staff who are committed to pushing the University of California to divest the university’s $7 billion endowment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies and to divert these funds into investments that build community power and address social and environmental injustice.
WHAT is divestment? Divestment is a tactic historically used to stigmatize powerful and repressive institutions and entities, like apartheid South Africa; by selling its holdings and banning future investment in companies doing business in South Africa, the UC helped marginalize the apartheid regime. Likewise, divesting from fossil fuels would mean that the UC sells all stocks currently held in the top fossil fuel companies worldwide and places a ban on ever trading in fossil fuel stocks in the future.
WHY divestment? Divestment is one step towards a broader vision: a future where climate change has been curtailed, communities manage their own resources free from corporate tyranny, and the power of the carbon industry has been broken. By pushing local institutions to dump investments in fossil fuels, we take tangible local action now while pressuring policy makers on the state and federal level to take legislative action in the near future. This is especially pertinent for public institutions because how can an organization dedicated to serving the public interest be financially dependent on an industry undermining the planet’s ecological balance, and thus the future of the institution’s constituents? And this logic holds especially true for universities—as Bill McKibben points out, “If [a] college’s endowment portfolio has fossil-fuel stock, then their educations are being subsidized by investments that guarantee they won’t have much of a planet on which to make use of their degree.” Divestment also makes economic sense. Meaningful international action on climate change will have to include keeping most of these companies’ reserves in the ground, which will mean a severe hit to the value of their stocks– and therefore to our endowment, if we keep our investments in these companies.
Divestment is a tactic to achieve greater systemic change. This is why Fossil Free Cal seeks to address climate justice issues more directly by connecting with local communities who deal directly with the effects of fossil fuel infrastructure sitting in their backyards. These frontline communities—usually working class communities of color, who have always been disproportionately affected by ecological degradation—are engaged in constant struggle, lobbying and taking direct action against industrial destruction, and could use student support. Connecting with these groups can help maintain our long-term vision and keep us accountable to the people most affected by the carbon industry.