Leonard Sklar: Geology Professor, CalPERS Beneficiary, & Divestment Activist
Professor of Geology Leonard Sklar, advocates for his pension fund, CalPERS, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, to divest from fossil fuels because on climate change, finance and geology are connected.
Leonard: “I have a great textbook that we’re using but it doesn’t talk about the linkage between resource extraction and climate change and how decisions we make about how to organize things like our pensions are inseparably part of that process. I have to bring that to the class without the aid of the textbook.” – 19:19
Leonard recommends scrutinizing our investments and consumer decisions to discover where we might be inadvertently funding the climate crisis.
Leonard: “Let’s look at our lives and see where else we are by default contributing to the perpetuation of this unfolding disaster. Is it in our banking, in the choices we have or don’t have for what to buy at the store, in the positions that our elected representatives take? – 29:30
When Leonard realized that the fund that manages his retirement savings, CalPERS, invests $30 billion of its $400 billion in total assets under management in fossil fuels, he was determined to challenge the funds’ reckless investment decisions in the face of the climate crisis. He joined the Fossil Free California CalPERS team to urge the fund the divest from fossil fuels.
Leonard: “When I found out my CalPERS pension was invested heavily in fossil fuels, I was determined to do something to change that because that’s a really inappropriate use of my hard earned pensions savings and all those of my colleagues. – 0:53
While Leonard’s team sustains public pressure, CalPERS has not yet considered divestment a serious strategy. On why CalPERS will not consider their direct beneficiaries’ calls for divestment:
Leonard: “My impression is that the CalPERS staff who are making the investment decisions look at their community as other big banks, the other big players in investment and those are their peers, those are the people that they validate their worldview through and it’s totally inappropriate for a public employee pension fund that’s charged with insuring the future.” – 11:40
Leonard adds his recommendation on how CalPERS can respond to this multiple crises’ moment:
Leonard: “I think they have to identify not as investors first and servants of the community second, but the other way around.”
There is still time to act on climate change, Leonard’s activism models, because systemic change happens when enough people act. With his team at Fossil Free CA, Leonard works to ensure public employees and beneficiaries of the fund are at the table and their concerns, heard.
Leonard: “I see what we’re doing in trying to democratize this aspect of governance of our collective resources that has been made less democratic by the current system.” 13:04
Since CalPERS current investment decision to invest in fossil fuels is harming the health of the planet and ourselves, Leonard encourages everyone to get involved in disrupting the path of our addiction to fossil fuels, to co-create a sustainable future.
Leonard: “We really need citizens, the members and the citizenry more broadly to intervene here, there needs to be an intervention because this is not a healthy situation.”– 8:44