Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact, Updated May 2019
Time to Divest? UCSF Academic Senate Says Yes
UCSF does not shy away from a challenge. In the spirit of taking on tough problems, the UCSF Academic Senate successfully voted in February on a Memorial to the University of California (UC) Regents urging UC to divest its endowment portfolio ($10.4 billion) of all investments in 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies with the largest carbon reserves.
May 2019 Update: Academic Faculty—Get Out and Vote!
Academic Senate faculty at almost all of the UC campuses have voted in favor of urging the Regents to divest from the 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies with the greatest carbon reserves. Most recently at UC Riverside on May 21st, the UCSF Memorial to the Regents on Fossil Fuel divestment was discussed and voted on by the Riverside Division of the Academic Senate. The motion to approve the memorial passed by a majority (72 to approve, 0 opposed, 4 abstentions). Now that the Memorial has been passed by over three campuses, making up over 35 percent of the total membership of the Academic Senate, the entire UC faculty will vote on it. If approved, it goes to the UC Regents.
To all Academic Senate faculty—get out and vote! Even if you voted on this already, this is a different step in the process and you can vote again. The more votes the stronger the message will be to the UC Regents that it is time to divest. Voting will begin June 1 and run for two weeks.
What is a Memorial?
A Memorial is a rarely used mechanism in UC’s shared governance structure that allows the Academic Senate a direct voice to the UC Regents. UCSF spearheaded the first step in this process, which is for one campus’ Academic Senate to pass a Memorial. UCSF’s Academic Senate approved the Memorial by 78.8 percent, with 302 total votes. The Memorial petitions the Regents to divest UC’s endowment portfolio of all investments in companies on the Carbon Underground 200 list, which identifies the largest owners of carbon reserves. UC currently owns shares in companies on the Carbon Underground 200 list. UC’s holdings of securities in oil and gas drilling and refining firms are approximately three percent of UC’s public equity holdings.
Why is this important? According to 350.org, “The basic facts of climate change are grim: 80% of fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground for us to stay below 2°C* of warming, and fossil fuel companies aren’t going to do that without a fight.” Divesting sends a market signal to companies to change and embrace a clean-energy future. In March, Norway announced it will divest $1 trillion. Bill McKibben Tweeted in response, “This will send shockwaves through the energy sector.”
Three Reasons for UC to Divest from Fossil Fuels
UCSF now has 90 days to get at least two other campuses to vote for the Memorial. Here are three reasons for UC to divest from fossil fuels:
1. Divestment is Good for Our Health: The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change: 2018 Report stresses the health effects of climate change, saying they represent an “unacceptably high level of risk for the current and future health” of the US population. According to The Global Fossil Fuel Divestment and Clean Energy Investment Movement, a 2018 report by Arabella Advisors, the American Medical Association (AMA) and the UK’s Royal College of General Practitioners have both divested, in part due to the clear link between climate change and health. “In the health care sector, doctors are increasingly concerned about the public health impacts of climate, spurring their desire to align their investments with their mission. As reported in The Guardian, Dr. Todd Sack, past long-time UCSF faculty member, at the AMA explained, “It is unwise to own fossil fuels companies long-term, and the products of these companies are harmful to human health by producing dangerous air pollution and contributing to global climate change.” Dr. Teitel, Chair of the UCSF Academic Senate and a pediatric cardiologist, explained, “The connection between climate change and health is clear, especially for the most vulnerable, including the young. Youth have become engaged, protesting around the country; a group of youth are suing the federal government (Juliana v U.S., now in the ninth circuit court of appeals) to develop and implement a plan to decarbonize the nation’s energy system in order to protect their health.”
2. Divestment Results in Good or Better Returns: Critics of divestment like to state that it will negatively impact returns. However, recent research shows that portfolios that divest from fossil fuels and utilities and invest in clean energy perform better than those with fossil fuels and utilities. Additionally, Green America explains, “Over the long term, as the effects of climate change become more apparent, and as more and more governments adopt policies to limit carbon pollution, the carbon resources that fossil fuel companies currently count as assets will shift to liabilities.” They also cite studies by numerous analysts that show fossil fuel companies may be overvalued by as much as 40 to 60 percent, which creates a “carbon bubble” that could burst and cause financial turmoil like the 2007 “housing bubble.” So, divesting now could actually protect assets in the future.
3. UC is Positioned to Be a Leader: With UCSF’s mission of promoting global health, it was well positioned to lead by example. If other campuses follow UCSF’s lead, it will send a clear message to the regents: This is an opportunity for UC to commit to divestment and prove that it is willing to act on the science demonstrating that climate change is a real and urgent problem. This will send a powerful message to other universities and institutions to not shy away from it. Today, nearly 1,000 institutional investors with $6.24 trillion in assets (15 percent are educational institutions) have committed to divest from fossil fuels, up from $52 billion four years ago—an increase of 11,900 percent. Most recently Middlebury College committed to divesting its $1.1 billion endowment from fossil fuels. Imagine the impact UC can have with an endowment of $10.4 billion.
Academic Senate Faculty: Get Out and Vote to Pass the Memorial
Over the next few weeks, all Senate faculty will have a chance to voice their opinion. Vote to pass the Memorial. The more votes we get, the better because what counts is the total number of votes from all UC campuses. The more UC faculty who vote, the more impactful the message will be to the Regents. Voting will begin June 1 and run for two weeks.
While adjunct faculty, HS Clinical Series, and students are not eligible to vote on the Memorial, you can voice your support via an online petition at Fossil Free UC.