Lauren Marnel Shores
Beginning on Monday at 10 a.m., Fossil Free UCSB organized a sit-in at Cheadle Hall in protest of UC investment in fossil fuels. Over the course of the following 72 hours, Chancellor Henry Yang met with negotiators to agree on terms of endorsement while the the sit-in proceeded as a way of pressuring Regent Richard Sherman and the rest of the UC Board of Regents to divest from fossil fuel. The protest ended on Thursday with Vice Chancellor Margaret Klawunn issuing a public statement of compliance with Fossil Free UCSB on behalf of Chancellor Yang.
The sit-in was part of a larger coordinated movement across the UCs beginning two weeks ago at UC Berkeley, with the second event occurring last week at UC Davis. However, Yang is the first UC chancellor to provide endorsement on the issue of fossil fuel divestment.
In the statement, Klawunn announced, “I stand by our students who have been sitting in calling for fossil fuel divestment this past week and support their aims. I furthermore wish to acknowledge the professors and staff at this campus and across the University who deeply care about the moral, political, economic, and scientific imperative of moving away from fossil fuel dependency.”
The statement went on to express Yang’s role in leading the UC to a fossil free future at the upcoming regents board meeting occurring in four days. “I look forward to working with my fellow chancellors in support of a thorough and transparent discussion on divestment from fossil fuels as part of the UC’s approach to combating the climate crisis.”
“Chancellor Yang is very committed to sustainability at our school,” stated Claire Wilson, a fourth year environmental studies major and one of the co-negotiators for Fossil Free UCSB. “It was just a process of education, and also bringing it to attention that this is really what the student body wants. We want a leader, and he could be that leader.”
Wilson stressed that the purpose of the sit-in stemmed from a need to take bolder action when all previous attempts to have their voices heard had been diverted. “Basically, we’ve been to regents meetings, made committees, formed coalitions, nothing has really come to fruition. We were tired of having our voices not be heard by the channels that were not available to us.”
“We have an opportunity, as students, to have our voices heard because we are part of such a prestigious system of education,” said Dana Cucci, a fourth year environmental studies major and participant in the sit-in. “The UC has an opportunity here to lead the way to a cleaner, better future for the environment, and I think it starts with us.”
Although $150 million has already been divested from the fossil fuel industry, there remains another $2.8 billion still invested. Macy explained that the industry “intends to burn five times more coal, oil, and gas than is safe for a stable climate” and is responsible for dangerous levels of climate change and pollution linked to cancer and respiratory diseases.
“It feels a little bit hypocritical that our school claims to be one of the fighters against climate change and then we have all this money invested in these companies. UCSB is obviously a great school, we have a lot of research into these issues, so we have a lot of support from faculty and staff, but it feels a little bit hypocritical as a whole that the UC’s have invested in these companies,” said Macy.
Cucci explained that she felt Yang’s cooperation was partly in response to how quickly the movement spread. Day one began with 38 students walking into Cheadle Hall but ended with 150 students passing through and 40 sleeping over. By the end of day two, numbers grew to 270 students, with another 30 sleeping over. At the end of the three days, support increased to 350 students and over 35 faculty members, all calling upon Sherman for divestment.
“We’ve had a huge turnout, which feels unbelievable,” Wilson explained. “This makes it one of the largest sit-isn for divestment from fossil fuel in California, and definitely up there with one of the biggest ever. We’ve had a lot of new people come in to want to support us so I’m excited about that.”