On March 15, the University of California divested another $150 million from fossil fuels. Regent Richard Sherman and Chief Investment Officer (CIO) Jagdeep Bachher announced this new step in the fight against climate change, adding to the $200 million UC divested in direct investments from coal and oil sands companies in September, 2015.
Despite the fact that the UC system still has billions of dollars invested in fossil fuel companies, the commitment to divest is noteworthy for removing investments from Sunoco and Energy Transfer Partners, both companies that are building the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Regent Sherman and CIO Bachher also expressed the desire to continue divesting.
Colleges and universities are key to movements of conscience. According to Karthik Ganapathy, a spokesman for 350.org, the aim of getting universities to divest isn’t necessarily to financially harm fossil fuel companies, but mainly to damage their image.
“The whole idea is basically to get the institutions that people trust—Harvard, the University of California, Stanford—to pull their money out of fossil fuels and take a stand against the industry,” Ganapathy said, “the way that a lot of them did with tobacco, the way a lot of them did with apartheid-era South Africa. The idea is that it will shift cultural attitudes by getting big institutions that people trust to take a moral stand.”
Academic institutions, Ganapathy insists, have extraordinary power to shift public opinion and influence lawmakers.
“It was energizing to see just how direct of an effect student organizing, along with strong faculty support, can have on altering UC’s investment decisions,” said Tyler Jacobson, a second-year UC Berkeley student, in a released statement. “Though there is still a lot more progress to make, this is an important next step.”
This month’s UC divestment announcement closely followed parallel victories by other campuses across the nation, including the University of Oregon and Columbia University divesting from coal, and Barnard College divesting from climate deniers.
The movement at all UC campuses in support of divestment from DAPL in particular and fossil fuels in general, is dynamic and vibrant, reflecting strong coalition actions among Fossil Free UC, university labor unions, Native American, and indigenous student groups.