CalSTRS divestment: An apple for the teacher

CalSTRS demonstration

Demonstrators came from all over Northern California to urge that CalSTRS divest from oil and gas holdings. Each apple displayed another reason.

On Wednesday, June 8, Fossil Free California and our allies came together for a silent demonstration at the CalSTRS headquarters in West Sacramento. As CalSTRS staff and board members entered the meeting room for the open session of the Investment Committee, we all lined the walls, holding red posterboard apples (“for the teacher”), each apple giving a different message about the urgency to divest from all fossil fuels — not just coal. CalSTRS staff and board members were clearly interested in reading the different messages on the apples.

We continued to stand as silent witness while three of our supporters gave public comment. Bill Vosburg and Misao Brown each gave strong testimony about the financial risks to our pension funds, citing the sharp decrease in renewable energy costs and the coming demise of the oil industry, which even the Financial Times warns us about. They also gave frightening instances of current climate change realities: monthly record-breaking global temperatures, wildfires, floods, die-offs of coral reefs including the Great Barrier Reef, and shattered records for lowest Arctic sea ice extent. Misao quoted UN climate leader Christiana Figueres about the pace necessary to prevent an economic and climate meltdown:

Successful implementation of the Paris agreement would depend on the speed with which we can shift capital to clean technologies and resilient infrastructures. This must happen in the next five years.

CalSTRS speakers

Misao Brown and Susan Sarnoff spoke to the CalSTRS Investment Committee: “Don’t engage, divest!”

Our third speaker, Susan Sarnoff, a retired kindergarten teacher from Chico, spoke of her experience of reminding her young charges that they sometimes needed to “listen to the adult in the room.” She gave heartfelt testimony to the need for urgent action to care for these children’s future, and she ended with the plea for the CalSTRS Board to act as “the adults in the room” and divest from all fossil fuels now.

At the end of Susan’s comment, Sharon Hendricks, CalSTRS Board Vice Chair, took the time to ask CalSTRS CIO Chris Ailman what kind of communication the staff was conducting with Fossil Free California and its supporters. He responded by saying that there had been good communication over the past two years. We appreciate CalSTRS’ friendly reception and thoughtful exchange of views as we all strive to address the climate crisis. While we continue to disagree about the effectiveness of shareholder engagement with companies like Exxon and Chevron, we hope that their continued intransigence will soon convince the CalSTRS board and staff that divestment is a more promising path.

Fossil Free California and our allies in 350 Sonoma County (thanks, Hoai-An!), 350 Bay Area, interfaith groups, teachers from Sacramento City College, and others joined together to make this a success. Thanks to all who helped whether they could attend or not. Many who had planned to demonstrate could not because of the date change, but they were there in spirit.

UPDATE, 6/15: Here is the video of the three Fossil Free California speakers at the June Investment Committee meeting.