A Call for CalSTRS to Divest from Fossil Fuels

Most of the readers of this article will already know the dire straits we are in because of climate change. We have seen the enormous destruction caused by wildfires, hurricanes, drought, and flooding. When I try to explain to my children, Andy (12) and Freida (9), the world we will be living in in 20 or 30 years unless we do something, I am tongue-tied. I live with a sense of dread, and I am overwhelmed by the enormity of the issues we face.

 

However, there is a way forward. There are things we can do to reduce our carbon footprint.

Our pension fund, CalSTRS, currently has $6 billion directly invested in fossil fuel producers, and $17.5 billion in fossil fuel-related industries. By divesting our retirement funds from the fossil fuel industry, we would send a loud, clear, and powerful message to the fossil fuel industry: “We will not underwrite your polluting activities”; and to the investment community, corporations, and our political representatives: “fossil fuels are no longer viable.” 

 

CalSTRS currently opposes divestment. They argue that they have a fiduciary responsibility to maintain the fund’s profitability, and that engaging with the fossil fuel industry will encourage them to change their business model. Both these rationales are weak: 

  • The first rationale, fiduciary responsibility, is demonstrably false. The fossil fuel industry has become increasingly unprofitable as the entire world moves to reducing greenhouse gasses. 

  • The second rationale, engagement, is unrealistic. The fossil fuel industry is in the business of fossil fuel production, and nothing is going to significantly change this fact. 

 

These arguments rationalize institutional intransigence and rigidity. In addition, neither argument offers a compelling response to the fact that we are living in a climate emergency, and that we need sweeping action now!

Divestment is both fiduciarily responsible and politically effective. Remember, the 1980’s divestment movement led to the end of apartheid in South Africa. And the divestment movement has momentum! Teacher unions across the state are passing resolutions supporting divestment, including our own union, the California Federation of Teachers, as well as the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges.  Recently, the U.S. government has shifted from climate denialism to climate activism by rejoining the Paris Climate Accord. And there is significant political support for the Green New Deal, including from the Amercian Federation of Teachers nationally, which also advocates for divestment from fossil fuels. Why aren’t we following in their lead?

So, what can we do?  Let Sharon Hendricks, our elected faculty representative on the CalSTRS Board, know that faculty support divestment. Please sign the petition below to show your support. You can also pass a resolution in your campus AFT 1521 chapter in support of divestment.

Fossil Free petition to Sharon Hendricks

 

Thank you.

 

Andrew Walzer

Humanities Program

LA City College

This letter has been endorsed by George Leddy, Denise Robb, David Beaulieu, Don Gauthier, Randy Adsit and Vered Mirmovitch, members of the SEI Steering Committee.

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