One week after President Obama visited a village in the Alaskan Arctic that faces destruction from global warming, the University of California announced that it would no longer invest its $100 billion portfolio in coal mining or tar sands oil.
Activists cheered, although neither they nor the university has characterized it as the definitive tipping point in the growing fossil fuel divestment movement.
Writing Thursday in the San Francisco Chronicle, Jagdeep Singh Bachher, University of California's chief investment officer, explained that the institution has shed $200 million in direct holdings in coal mining and tar sands oil.
“The move is part of our new risk-review process that more comprehensively considers environmental sustainability, social responsibility and governance risks in our investment strategy,” Bachher wrote.
Dianne Klein, a spokesperson for the university, said UC would consider climate- change-related risks for future investments. About $10 billion of the university’s investments remain in fossil fuels and related industries, she said.Related Bumblebees Can’t Take the Heat as the Climate Warms
“We firmly believe that if we don’t consider these aspects of a potential investment, such as its impact on climate change and other factors, we are going to lose money long-term,” said Klein.
“Our chief responsibility is fiduciary,” Klein said. “We do believe that our taking a stand on these issues is influential. But I would not portray us in a moral sense; this is smart investing.”
Melinda and Bill Gates, seen here in Jan. 2015, have channeled much of their wealth into solving global health problems. Activists say their foundation's continued investments in fossil fuels undercuts that work. (Photo: Ruben Sprich/Reuters)
On Sept. 2, the California legislature passed a bill requiring the state’s pension systems, known as CalPERS and CalSTRS, to divest their roughly $200 million worth of holdings in coal. Activists have charged that the two funds lost roughly $5 billion in 2014 owing to falling stock prices among its fossil fuel investments.
Fossil Free UC hailed the university's news as the culmination of a three-year activist campaign.
“This is a big deal, and an important first step that takes $200 million away from companies like Peabody,” a major U.S. coal firm, “but we need our schools to take a stance against Exxon and Shell too,” Alden Phinney, a student at UC Santa Cruz, said in a statement. “They’re every bit as responsible for the climate crisis.”
Bachher rejected an all-or-nothing investment strategy on fossil fuels. “Blanket divestment from fossil fuels grabs headlines,” he wrote in the Chronicle, “but doesn’t actively address climate change.”
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Divestment advocates believe otherwise, and now some Seattle activists have homed in on another big target. They are publicly pressuring the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to divest its $43 billion endowment from coal and oil, arguing that by not taking a stand against burning fossil fuels, the foundation is undercutting its own work.