UC must denounce fossil fuels; protect students’ futures

UC must denounce fossil fuels; protect students’ futures

By Sean O’Neil


Growing up in Virginia, nature has played a particularly important role in my upbringing. I spent my childhood exploring the rolling hills of the Appalachians, fishing in the James River, and surfing in the Chesapeake Bay, appreciating all that Virginia had to offer. The communities I became a part of gave me a sense of place and left me with memories I constantly come back to: driving through the sea of a red, yellow, and orange Appalachian Autumn, going on picnics on the banks of the James River with my high school girlfriend, and having bonfires with friends on summer nights. The Virginia landscape and the friends and loved ones I shared it with inspired my passion for the environment and molded me into myself. Even across the country, the Virginia wilderness still feels like home to me.

When I was little, I grew up in a yellow house, and years after my family moved out, we drove by one day to see the house again, to recollect on the times we had and the moments we spent that made the house so special. When we pulled up, however, the house had been repainted gray, the grass was brown, and my old makeshift rope swing was gone. It didn’t feel like my home anymore.

When I hear news of the fossil fuel industry dumping coal ash in the James River, mountain tops in the Appalachians being blown off for coal mining, and proposals for new state pipeline projects, I feel that same blow to my identity that I felt standing in front of the gray house. For every dollar the fossil fuel industry makes at the expense of Virginia’s wilderness, the community is weakened, the wildlife suffers, and Virginians lose that feeling of home. The fossil fuel industry may seem like a profitable industry, until one factors in these costs.

After more than 4 years of pressure from students, the Regents pledged to divest nearly $150 million of their investments in the fossil fuel industry. They divested from coal, tar sands, and DAPL, but with investments in big oil and natural gas, the UC still props up the fossil fuel industry and funds the climate crisis. Our institution is taking small steps to challenge the problem, but is is not enough. In a time when the Earth’s temperature is rapidly getting warmer, with a current administration rapidly repealing environmental protections and emissions standards, small steps in leadership won’t protect our futures or bring back our communities.

The Regents were appointed to support the students and the UC community’s best interest, and we believe that their investments in the fossil fuel industry are in direct conflict with their duties. The UC investment office claims, “Sustainability is a fundamental input that guides our investment decision-making,” yet the regents have $3 billion invested in the top 200 fossil fuel companies. That’s $3 billion dollars funding climate denying politicians, ecological destruction, and oil wars — all of which threaten students’ futures and communities across the globe.

Time is running out to reverse or even control the damage climate change has already caused. Worse off, Trump has filled his cabinet with climate deniers and has repeatedly referred to climate change as a hoax. The Trump administration is determined to dismantle the EPA, lower emission standards, allow corporations to pollute more easily, greenlight coal mining on federal land, and cut funding for conservation and cleanup efforts, including a 100% cut to the Chesapeake Bay Cleanup, a huge blow to my home state. I, along with the rest of the student body, refuse to sit idly by as the UC regents side with the regressive policies of this administration in their complicity with environmental crisis. We demand that Richard Sherman, the chair of the Committee on Investments, commit to fully divesting all $3 billion dollars of the UC’s holdings in the fossil fuel industry and take bold action as a climate leader.

Fossil Free UC has mobilized thousands of supporters in the last 4 years, urging  the regents to cut their investments in the fossil fuel industry and end their complicity with the consequences of climate change and environmental destruction. We have talked divestment with the regents before, and too often we hear the same trite excuse for inaction: “It’s a difficult issue.”

Too often in history action is only taken after the damage has been done. We cannot keep sweeping the imminent danger climate change poses under the rug, leaving future generations to deal with the problems. In 1868, the University of California was conceived to “contribute even more than California’s gold to the glory and happiness of advancing generations.” A century and a half later, that “glory and happiness” is being sold out for the short term profits of the fossil fuel industry.

Berkeley students have paved the way to free speech; we can pave the way to a clean and just world that protects our families, communities, futures and memories. Now more than ever, Berkeley students and students all over the country and world must demand that our schools divest from the fossil fuel industry and invest in our future. Join us on April 24th in peaceful protest and bold action, as students lead the way.