UC Davis Students Conduct Sit-in, Demanding UC Divestment from Fossil Fuels

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Fossil Free UC Davis took part in a chain of actions, coordinated by the statewide Fossil Free UC campaign, calling on the University of California to divest its nearly $3 billion holdings in fossil fuels.

According to a statement from the group Fossil Free UC Davis, around 30 students marched from the UC Davis Memorial Union to Mrak Hall, the administrative building on campus, where a sit-in was conducted.

Once in Mrak Hall, student activists called on administrators to uphold their positions as representatives of a leading research university and to do their moral duty to assist Fossil Free UC Davis to achieve divestment. Negotiation processes are currently underway.

UC Davis is not individually invested in fossil fuels, Sarah Risher, one of the organizers of the event, told the Vanguard, but rather the UC System as a whole.  She explained, “The UC Endowment Pool maintains an investment of nearly $3 billion in the fossil fuel industry. In 2015, the UC did divest 250 million from coal and tar sand extraction. We are wanting them to complete full divestment.”

Back in March of 2017, Chief Investment Officer Jagdeep Bachher and UC Regent Richard Sherman disclosed a further $150 million divested from fossil fuels from the UC portfolio during an Investment Subcommittee meeting of the UC Regents.

This divestment was linked to the Dakota Access Pipeline with Sunoco and Energy Transfer Partners, two key companies building the pipeline.

However, at that time, despite some incremental progress, students said that it fell short of clear climate leadership from their university.

“While the UCs have divested $150 million from fossil fuels, they remain invested to the tune of billions of dollars in hundreds of fossil fuel companies fueling the climate crisis. The CEOs of those very same companies now work with the President of the United States and are running our country into climate catastrophes from the inside,” said Sam Weinstein, a third year at UC Santa Cruz, in March.

“The UC refuses take a firm stand, in essence backing the status quo, and acting as though we are not in a time of deep political and climate crisis. This situation demands action, and real leadership requires they make the decision to fully divest from fossil fuels and truly stand with us. If Regent Sherman does not publicly provide a plan for full divestment soon, students will take bold action the university refuses to,” said Laretta Johnson, first year student UC Santa Cruz.

Sarah Risher told the Vanguard, “The fossil fuel holdings are concerning because the UC wants to take on this role of global climate leader yet continues to profit off an industry (that) fueled the climate crisis.”

While the University of California claims two ambitious sustainability goals – Zero Waste by 2020 and Carbon Neutral by 2025 – its continued investment in the industry “doesn’t align with the motives of these goals,” Ms. Risher said.

The University of California as a whole, and UC Davis specifically, are research institutions, she explained.  “The science community is in conscious (accord) that climate change is happening and fossil fuels are a main driver. So the UCD campus community should not be okay or indifferent to the UC investments.”

Ms. Risher added, “The UC should divest to take bold, progressive action in the name of climate justice. It is the moral imperative of the UC to take such action.

“In our nation’s political climate, it is not a time to remain neutral. We have former big oil CEOs in the highest administrative positions that can further the climate catastrophe from the inside,” she said. “Climate change not only causes ecological destruction but disproportionately impacts indigenous communities and communities of color. Continued investments in fossil fuels is the UC disregarding these people’s experiences and burdens.”

Lois Kim, a freshmen at UC Davis, said, “I chose to go to UC Davis because, as an environmental policy major, attending and paying tuition for a university that was sustainable and prioritized the environment is highly important to me.”

However, she added, “I found it quite hypocritical that such prominent research universities, one of which claims to be the most sustainable university in the world, had so much money involved in fossil fuel industry. Yet, I believe that the UC can divest and make the change to become a true climate leader.”

Meanwhile, Cameron Clay, a senior, added, “It is time that our voice be heard. Thousands of students, eight Associated Student bodies, and over 700 faculty have called on the UC system to finally divest from fossil fuels, and fulfill its goal of being a global climate leader.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Keith O

    So I guess we can surmise that none of these 30 students drive a car, use fossil fuel driven public transportation, heat or light their homes with fossil fuels or use any fossil based products.

    1. David Greenwald

      Why do you believe there is a contradiction between driving a car and wanting the university to divest from fossil fuels and reduce our societal dependency on them?

        1. David Greenwald

          Yes you do. Because while I drive a car, I wouldn’t invest millions (even if I had them) in fossil fuel companies. I consider it a huge difference.

        2. Todd Edelman

          Reducing participation is the goal here. Purity is impossible. Few would have issue with these energy companies if they went 100% renewable. Divestment in this context is GREAT but it’s not really even reform of Capitalism, just support of a change of suppliers — and ideally supply. Our inter-connected world may last longer if this happens, and understanding why that’s good does not require anonymous mansplaining.

        3. Richard C

          I’m in favor of reducing our use of fossil fuels dramatically.

          The best way of achieving this goal would be to advocate for increased taxes on fossil fuels including increasing the federal gas tax which has not increased in many years..  This is the approach that the European countries have taken.  If you’ve traveled in Europe you probably know that gasoline is much more expensive there and public transportation is much more prevalent.

  2. Colin Walsh

    I saw facebook posts last night that the University was taking names and student ID numbers and threatening disciplinary action against any student that did not immediately leave Mrak hall.

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