Paula Buel: Retired Teacher Urges Teachers to Mobilize for CalSTRS Divestment
Career California school teacher Paula Buel recently spoke with a friend in the northwest U.S. forced to make sudden, heart-wrenching decisions about her horses during a wildfire evacuation, one example of how climate disruptions cause novel and traumatizing last-second decisions.
Paula: “Look around you…. these climate disasters are happening all around us and we have to do something.”
To do something about climate change, Paula urges the investment managers of her pension fund, CalSTRS, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, to divest from fossil fuels.
Paula: “Why this? Why pension funds and why CalSTRS?… This is one of the biggest pension funds in the country and if this organization divests then others would follow.” 4:45
Teachers lead Paula’s team at Fossil Free California (FFCA), current and future retirees who deliver public comments at board investment meetings and educate and build public support for the climate-aligned strategy of divestment. About her team Paula says:
One motive behind the drastic strategy of divestment, explains Paula, is that decarbonizing the economy by 2050 is unrealistic, 50 years from now is game over – and divestment better responds to the urgency.
Paula: “The environmental risk is much greater than you think it is and you can’t be carbon neutral by 2050, that’s just way too late, look at what’s happening around us right now. 16:28
The investment managers at CalSTRS have acknowledged FFCA’s constant presence at their meetings, but according to Paula, the group of financiers that make decisions on where retirement funds are invested, rarely engage its beneficiaries as serious stakeholders in the decision-making process.
Paula: “CalSTRS has public comment in their meetings after an item, shouldn’t they be having the public comment before the item?….when they do hear from us, they treat us like we don’t know anything, which doesn’t seem very respectful.” 15:13
Missing an opportunity to engage its beneficiaries, a deep pool of career teachers, on how to decarbonize the economy, CalSTRS prefers to engage the corporate entities the Fund invests in, including fossil fuel producers, as a corporate climate action strategy.
Paula: “They know they have a fiduciary responsibility to manage the funds and we know the fossil fuels are losing money and we also know that there are definite risks, health and safety risks, climate and environmental risks.”
Though the Fund’s investment managers have been unwilling to divest, Paula and her team of teacher activists at FFCA are heard elsewhere in the community.
Paula: “when my public comment got live on the KPFA radio, that was a big moment for me. It is like, oh somebody heard me, even if the board’s not listening, somebody got to hear what I had to say.” 10:46
Climate science clarifies that for a livable future, investing in fossil fuels is pernicious. What will it take for the teacher’s pension fund to recognize divestment as the most appropriate, available option for climate action?
Paula: “I think we need to get a bigger groundswell of teachers speaking up more loudly in every forum that we have.” 17:35