Students covered in molasses holding signs

Media Advisory: Youth, Teachers, Labor Leaders and Financial Experts Debate CalSTRS’ Fossil Fuel Investments at Sustainability Symposium


For the first time ever, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS)* met publicly with advocates of fossil fuel divestment at a virtual Sustainability Symposium on Wednesday, February 9th from 4:00-6:30 PM PST. Speakers included CalSTRS staff, investment professionals, teachers, and climate activists.

Nalleli Cobo of Los Angeles shared her experience growing up near an oil well: “My health declined. I started getting body spasms so severe I couldn’t move. My mom would have to carry me from one place to another. […] At the age of 19, I was diagnosed with stage 2 cancer.” She concluded by saying, “It’s important that teachers’ money doesn’t go to killing kids, it doesn’t go to damaging their organs or their health; it goes to protecting them and guaranteeing a beautiful life for them.”

“How much more does my community have to suffer, how much does my future have to be in question for you to decide that your moral responsibility is to pull support from those causing the suffering?” Lizbeth Ibarra, a 17 year old climate activist who grew up near the Chevron Richmond refinery, asked CalSTRS. She challenged, ”Do teachers know that you’re investing their money in supporting destructive projects, from Line 3 to the East Africa crude oil pipeline?”

Ibarra’s statement followed a defensive speech by CalSTRS CIO Chris Ailman where he conceded the power of divestment, referencing an interaction with an Indian fossil fuel company: “We were the first people who actually educated them about the divestment movement and that it was a threat to them.”

Retired teacher and CalSTRS beneficiary Jane Vosburg joined others in calling out CalSTRS’ shareholder engagement with fossil fuel companies such as Exxon as ineffective: “Engaging with fossil fuel giants legitimizes talk over action. … By insisting on engaging with rather than divesting from fossil fuel companies, CalSTRS continues to enable the industry’s deadly delaying tactics.

Even the engagement advocates present struggled to defend their tactics. Ceres Senior Director Andrew Logan said, “Engagement is not always the right answer, right? And I think Exxon has historically been a company that has felt like not the greatest use of time because they’ve not been a company that’s been willing to move.”

University of California CIO Jagdeep Singh Bachher, who led the largest educational system in the United States in selling all of their fossil fuel stocks, said, “We are managing financial risk not for today, not for the next two years, but for the next 10, 20, 30, and 50 years.” Bachher added, “The engagement that I have felt was the most fruitful is engaging with our students and our staff and our teachers in a way that we could learn from them.”

* CalSTRS is the second largest financier of fossil fuels among public pension funds in the United States, with $15.6 billion invested in fossil fuels (or, over 5% of their portfolio). Their top fossil fuel investments include Exxon, Chevron, Shell, BHP, and BP.


Miriam Eide | Fossil Free California | | 507-923-6346

CJ Koepp | Fossil Free California | | 608-397-3921