This spring, students from fossil fuel divestment campaigns across the nation are escalating their efforts on their campuses, demanding that their administrators answer this simple question: “Whose side are you on?” These students have signed the Escalation Pledge as part of the movement to get universities to divest their endowments from the top 200 fossil fuel companies with the largest carbon reserves.
Fossil Free is now an international campaign, having boomed from 15 to 300 campuses in a matter of four months and to over 400 campuses in the last two years. In California alone, Stanford, SFSU, Pitzer College, Humboldt State, De Anza and Foothill Community Colleges, and Chico State have all committed to various degrees of divestment.
“If it’s wrong to wreck the climate, it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.” This quote by Bill McKibben is the moral anthem of this campaign. While the University of California is home to the top researchers and Nobel laureates and holds the status as one of the best public universities in the world, the university continues to fund and profit from the very companies that undermine the UC’s own research findings and the future stability of its students. But it’s more than a moral campaign; it’s a campaign to change the minds of our country’s citizens. Fossil Free does not aim to financially cripple these companies—it politically cripples them. The fossil fuel industry has five times more carbon in its reserves than even most optimistic estimates say is safe to emit and maintain a stable climate—the industry intends to extract and burn all of it. By selling off their oil, gas, and coal stocks, the UC Regents would be declaring that this great institution refuses to support such companies. Without the political backing of pension funds and universities, fossil fuel companies lose their social license to operate—politician can no longer take the industry’s lobbying money and association with industry becomes as toxic as their product. The UCs’ influence is global in reach; we should take advantage of this power to move our world toward a sustainable, equitable future.
As part of escalation this spring, the Fossil Free team at UC Berkeley staged a sit-in, camp-out, and rally outside their chancellor’s office, urging him to publicly support fossil fuel divestment. This action was in response to a meeting the Fossil Free Cal team had with Chancellor Dirks, pushing him to make a decision of whose side he will stand on—with the students or with the industry. During the sit-in, students signed onto a “Nonviolent Direct Action” pledge, committing to participate in such future demonstrations. This action comes on the heels of sit-ins staged by students from Bowdoin, Swarthmore, University of Mary Washington, Swarthmore College, and Yale (where the university opted to arrest 19 of its students rather than listen to their requests). These actions will continue until universities choose the side of students, and commit to divestment.
Thanks to an administration that has proven open to student efforts, Fossil Free UCSB has chosen to not stage their own escalation. However, Fossil Free UCSB stands in solidarity with Fossil Free Cal. All part of the same campaign, UC campuses are supporting Cal’s action because it is time for our chancellors to choose to stand with students.
As the campaign heats up, now is the perfect time to join. Get involved with UCSB’s Fossil Free team by coming to the Environmental Affairs Board meetings at 7 PM, Wednesdays, in the MCC GSA lounge. We hope to see you there! With your help, we can make our future fossil-free.