Chico State divests

Chico human oil spill

Chico State students stage a “human oil spill” as part of their successful university divestment campaign.

Herb Caen, longtime columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle, used to look down his metropolitan nose at Chico, claiming that the Safeway there carried Velveeta cheese in the gourmet food section. Chico, he said, was a hick town.

If that was ever true, it certainly isn’t now. Chico today is a leader in environmental sustainability, and Chico State University underscored that fact on December 10 by divesting from all fossil fuels. The Chico Enterprise-Record reports:

In a move proponents liken to earlier divestment from apartheid and Big Tobacco, the Chico State University Foundation Board of Governors voted this month to fully divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies within four years—making it the first public university in the nation to do so. The change in investment policy excludes direct investment in the top 200 coal, oil and gas companies and will liquidate any holdings in managed funds that include investments in fossil fuel companies.

This is a triumph for the California divestment movement, and Chico State students are the heroes. They have rallied and organized over the last year, supporting divestment in an election last April with an 80 percent vote. Their campaign led directly to last week’s decision. Activist student Kevin Killion was delighted:

This is really a win for the whole nation. We are taking a stand—we are saying this school, this institution no longer wants to benefit from a company that is being inherently destructive to the planet.

A collaborative effort

The campaign was supported by faculty and administration, too, with sixty teachers signing a divestment petition. Geography and planning professor Mark Stemen said, “I’m impressed by what the students did and the way they did it. It was a collaborative effort, not confrontational.” University president Paul Zingg added:

This is an outstanding example of our campus community, working together, to ensure that our actions match our professed values. It is essential to all of us at Chico State that we “walk the talk” on sustainability, and in this case our students led the way.

If Herb Caen were able to return to Chico, he’d have to eat his words, perhaps accompanied with a slice of Velveeta he brought from the big city. Chico has some metropolitan-level climate action. The university adopted a bold Climate Action Plan in 2011, committing to reach climate neutrality by 2030. And elsewhere in town, the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company has built California’s largest privately owned solar installation, with more than 10,500 panels.

Most important, the people at Chico State—students and their supporters—have shown the way for other colleges and universities. Make the case for divestment, they have demonstrated, and we can overcome the lies and misdirections of Big Energy.

Photo: Emily Teague, The Orion

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