CalSTRS: Divest from fossil fuels!

Banner at Oakland march: we must divest!

Members of 350 Santa Barbara joined 8,000 other Californians in February to ask for climate justice on behalf of all children.

This post is by Vivian Stanton, a retired elementary school teacher with the Santa Barbara School District. She is a member of CalSTRS and of 350 Santa Barbara.

As a member of the largest public teacher retirement fund in the United States, I am very concerned. The retirement fund which I currently rely on, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), is heavily invested in companies whose products—coal, oil, and gas—are  destroying our planet.

The fossil fuel industry is waging a war against the children I taught. It takes advantage of renewable energy patent buyouts, government lobbying, and aggressive climate denial campaigns to win battle after battle. The industry’s propaganda campaign has even proved successful in convincing many people that the children I taught are not actually facing a disappearing California coastline, unprecedented droughts and wildfires, and a higher cost of living due to climate change.

There is no good reason to support these companies when for the same bang for its buck, CalSTRS managers could switch to more responsible and equally profitable companies to secure a livable future for the public teachers of California. At least two investment groups—Impax and Aperio—have modeled the impact of fossil fuel divestment over several recent years and concluded that there would have been almost no financial risk. Some fossil-free portfolios even outperformed their toxic counterparts.

Renewables are approaching price parity and will only become cheaper, whereas fossil fuels can only become more expensive as they grow scarcer and more dangerous to extract. Moreover, the industry is having to fight tooth and nail for every project it proposes—whether fracking, tar sands mining, mountaintop removal, pipelines, or oil trains. It has to fight for these projects because people don’t want them happening anymore. CalSTRS should not be invested in such destructive activities.

Since the industrial revolution began, global temperatures have risen almost 1 degree Celsius, and this is melting the Arctic already and contributing to an increased rate of rising sea levels every year. World governments agreed in 2009 that a 2-degree Celsius rise in global temperatures must be prevented if we would like to, you know, have civilization. Shortly after the non-binding Copenhagen Agreement was made, the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a London-based research institute, calculated that the fossil fuel industry has more than four times the safe amount of burnable carbon in its known reserves.

CalSTRS managers are fully aware of the math, the science, and the severity of the climate crisis. But they continue to believe that shareholder engagement—asking the fossil fuel industry to do something more responsible than destroy the planet—is the way to go. However, “engaging” in an industry that launches anti-science campaigns to lie about global warming—saying it’s not happening, it’s a hoax, the globe is cooling—is unlikely to produce favorable results.

I, personally, cannot fathom how it is possible to convince companies to stop selling the products that make them money. I’ve yet to wrap my mind around how this makes any sense. If their business model is destroying the planet, we stop doing business with them.

CalSTRS CEO Jack Ehnes has said, “Action on climate change must happen now.” Please then, Mr. Ehnes, heed the call of a fast-growing number of beneficiaries of the fund you manage, and cut ties with the fossil fuel industry. This is the kind of climate action we need. And we need it now.