About Fossil Free California
We are concerned California residents who care about the future of our state and our planet. Fossil fuels put that future in peril. Some of us are members of the two largest public pension funds in the country, CalPERS and CalSTRS, which both invest in fossil fuels. We challenge such investments and work to end the injustices, inequities, and destruction intrinsic to the fossil fuel economy.
Fossil Free California works to end financial support for climate-damaging fossil fuels and promotes the transition to a socially just and environmentally sustainable society.
Together with allied environmental and climate justice organizations, we mobilize grassroots pressure on CalPERS and CalSTRS to divest their fossil fuel holdings. We support individuals and institutions (churches, cities, etc.) that want to purge their own portfolios of fossil fuels. Our efforts also include legislative and executive action to foster climate stabilization and develop a just, zero-carbon economy.
Jane Vosburg - Board President, Co-Founder
Jane Vosburg is a retired teacher with a CalSTRS pension. She finds it unconscionable and negligent for her pension fund to continue investing in an industry that has performed poorly for the last ten years while threatening the future of today’s students. Since her retirement in 2013, Jane has been a driving force behind Fossil Free California’s campaign to divest CalSTRS of its fossil fuel investments. In light of the recent NY State and Rockefeller Fund divestment announcements, Jane is hopeful about the prospect of finally influencing her pension fund’s Board Members to divest CalSTRS from fossil fuels.
Patrick Costello - Board Treasurer
Patrick is a Certified Financial Planner™ and founder of Green River Sustainable Financial Planning, an investment firm serving individuals and entities that wish to lower the carbon footprint of their investments. He is also the author of the book "Low-Carbon Investing: Defending the Climate/Emphasizing Performance," published in 2018. As a board member, Patrick works to increase the visibility and economic support and assists in articulating the changes that CA Pension Plan Trustees must make to decarbonize their investment portfolios.
Sara Theiss - Board Secretary
Ken Minami - Board Member
Jen Simmons - Board Member
Peter Guastella - Board Member
Miriam Eide is our Coordinating Director. Miriam is a graduate of Macalester College with degrees in Environmental Studies and International Studies. While in college she worked in the Sustainability Office and launched a free menstrual cup program on campus. Outside of FFCA, she is a member of Sunrise Bay Area where she is fighting to Stop Line 3 and build stronger relationships between labor and environmental organizing.
CJ Koepp is our Communications Coordinator. CJ is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin—Madison with degrees in Political Science and Environmental Studies as well as a Leadership Certificate. While in college, she interned for the Environmental Law & Policy Center, chaired the Wisconsin Student Climate Action Coalition, and led the first effort in the Midwest to hold a university legally accountable for its investments in the fossil fuel industry. Outside of FFCA, she serves as the Voice of Youth and Board Member for 350 Madison and enjoys birding, yoga, and playing instruments.
Mayowa Benson is our Development Coordinator. He is experienced in community development and has a demonstrated history of evaluating and addressing community needs. In addition to his development work in the for-profit, nonprofit, and public sectors, he is a graduate of the University of Georgia where he earned a master's degree in Nonprofit Management and Leadership.
Working Toward a Just and Sustainable Society
At Fossil Free California, we continually seek to educate ourselves and the public about the moral and economic risks of fossil fuel investments. We are active members in coalitions working for fossil fuel divestment, clean energy investment, and the protection of communities at most risk of current and future damage from fossil fuels.
We advocate for fossil fuel divestment in pension funds and in municipal and institutional funds in California, and also offer information to individuals who want to purge fossil fuels from their own portfolios.
In addition, FFCA supports legislative and executive action to encourage divestment, eliminate fossil fuel extraction, decrease use of fossil fuels, and invest in a just, zero-carbon economy.
Divesting State Pension Funds
Divestment sends a strong message to investors and policy-makers that fossil fuels are a toxic investment. Divestment removes the social license from businesses that are destroying the climate.
With investments of about $400 billion and 1.9 million members, the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) is the largest public pension fund in the United States. The California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS) is the second-largest, with about $250 billion in investments and 900,000 members.
Both funds are respected worldwide. As a result, CalPERS and CalSTRS have the opportunity to lead a rapid transition into socially just and environmentally conscious investing.
What We're Asking of the Pension Funds
Fossil Free California and the thousands who have signed our divestment petition demand that the Boards of CalPERS, CalSTRS, and other public investment funds in California instruct their asset managers to:
- Divest from all exposure to fossil fuel companies and fossil-fired utilities*, beginning immediately;
- Report annually to the public about the progress of these divestments.
*Companies engaged in the exploration, production, refining, marketing, storage, and transportation of oil, gas, coal, and consumable fuels (including companies that offer oil and gas equipment and services, plus fossil-fired utility companies).
Working Toward a Just and Sustainable Society
Inspired by 350.org's Go Fossil Free campaigns, a few activists from around California began in 2013 to organize to promote fossil fuel divestment. Our primary focus was the two largest US state pension funds—CalPERS and CalSTRS—the sixth and eleventh largest public pension funds in the world. After two years of building support for divestment, we formally launched Fossil Free California at the CalPERS headquarters in Sacramento on Global Divestment Day, February 13, 2015. 2015 was also the year that FFCA built a bigger base of California supporters; we worked throughout the state to help pass Senate Bill 185, legislation that mandated both state pension funds to divest from selected thermal coal companies.
Incorporating Climate Justice
Along with a continued focus on the state pension funds, FFCA has broadened our approach to include support for other policies designed to end financial support for fossil fuels:
- Divestment by city and county governments, with several entities having passed resolutions and policies to divest
- Divestment of personal portfolios, with the Move Your Money campaign, launched in 2017
- More climate-friendly legislation, including sponsorship of SB 964 (2018), which requires CalSTRS and CalPERS to disclose climate damaging investments and identify them as a financial risk
From the beginning, we have joined climate marches and rallies that highlight the need for climate justice:
- Marches supporting frontline communities--from the 2013 Richmond march in response to Chevron’s fire to later protests against fracking, oil trains, and coal in Oakland
- Protests starting in 2017 against banks funding fossil fuels that damage indigenous and poor communities with groups including 350.org, Stop the Money Pipeline, and Stand.Earth
Understanding Climate Finance in California
FFCA has also supported research and events to increase understanding of climate risk.
- Inspired by the example of research commissioned by DivestNY, FFCA and 350 Colorado commissioned white papers demonstrating that fossil fuel investments by pension funds result in financial losses.
- During the Global Climate Action Summit, held in San Francisco in September 2018, we co-sponsored a Climate Finance Summit, along with 350.org, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Center for International Environmental Law.
A Growing Movement
Divestment as our core strategy gained strength in 2019, as two Bay Area youth organizations, Youth vs Apocalypse and Earth Guardians, began collaborating with FFCA to confront the CalSTRS Board. We have also been inspired by divestment breakthroughs by allied groups in New York City (2018), New York State (2020), and Maine (2021).
As public understanding of the climate crisis and its financial implications has increased, FFCA has moved over 10,000 Californians to take action on divestment. At any given moment, FFCA has over 25 teachers, state workers, students, and retired pension beneficiaries volunteering weekly to call for pension divestment.
Expanding Beyond Divestment
In addition to divestment, we have responded to frontline calls to action on oil and gas drilling in communities of color in California. In 2020, FFCA established a Collaborating for Climate Justice team to explore better ways of working with environmental organizations led by people of color, such as the Visión Coalition we joined in order to support their efforts for 2500ft setbacks between oil and gas drilling sites and homes, schools, and other public facilities, and for phasing out all fracking and drilling activities in California, with a just transition for all affected workers and communities.
You can help
Fossil fuels must stay in the ground
To avoid the most catastrophic climate effects--sea-level rise, extreme weather events, and loss of agricultural production--two-thirds of fossil fuel reserves must not be burned. Climate change hurts vulnerable communities most.
Fossil fuel extraction, refining and distribution disproportionately impact poor people and people of color. Keeping fossil fuels in the ground will begin to rectify the historic injustices experienced by these communities, from the refinery explosion in Richmond, California, to oil contamination in the Niger Delta, to “Cancer Alley” in Louisiana.
Fossil Fuels Are Bad Investments
Fossil fuel stocks are not wise long-term investments. If CalPERS and CalSTRS had divested from fossil fuels ten years ago (as of June 30, 2019) and instead put those funds into the rest of their portfolio they would have made $19 billion more. The funds’ sustainable investments are doing better than the market average. Our retirement systems should be investing in a healthy, equitable future.
Policy is a powerful lever for change
Government policies have the power to break the grip of the fossil fuel industries. Through collective advocacy, we can help pass new laws at the local, state, and federal levels that redirect government subsidies and other monies away from fossil fuels, support the creation of new energy systems and jobs, protect vulnerable communities, and empower them to choose their own future.
You Can Make a Difference
We are looking for volunteers to pass divestment resolutions and advocate for policy changes in their unions, for their cities, or at the state level. Join us on our campaign teams, engage in social media, and/or do research. Whatever your interests and talents, whether you can devote a lot of time or a few hours, you can help us build an equitable, zero carbon, world.
Together we can move California toward a fossil-free future.