UCSD Academic Senate Votes in Favor of Fossil Fuel Divestment

Photo courtesy of Oleg. on Flickr.

The UC San Diego Academic Senate announced on June 26 that it has approved the Fossil Fuel Memorial, calling on the University of California to divest from fossil fuels. 

The memorial urges the UC Board of Regents to divest all of the UC system’s current investments in the 200 fossil fuel companies with the largest carbon reserves, identified in a list compiled by the Fossil Free Index. Three percent of the UC system’s public equity holdings currently belong to fossil fuel companies.

The UC San Francisco Academic Senate was the first Division to initiate and approve the memorial on February 15. The memorial was routed to other Senate Divisions across the UC system earlier this year for consideration. 

A systemwide vote for the memorial’s approval was opened last June. UCSD Academic Senate members voted on the Fossil Fuel Memorial between June 3 and June 19. 21.7 percent of the current Academic Senate membership voted, casting 522 ballots in total. 421 voted in favor of the memorial while 101 voted in opposition.

On July 10, Chair of the UC Academic Council Robert C. May announced that all 10 UC campuses have voted on and passed the memorial. The memorial was submitted to the UC Board of Regents for discussion at their next meeting. The Board of Regents are responsible for investment decisions, which are then managed by the Office of the CIO.

“The vote could not have occurred at a worse time—finals and break,” said UCSD Professor Eric Halgren, an advocate for divestment. “Yet, the turnout was slightly higher than the previous Senate [leadership] vote.”

Demands for fossil fuel divestment are a part of efforts to take stronger action against climate change. Arguments in favor of divestment emphasize the catastrophic consequences of climate change and cite fossil fuel companies’ contributions to this phenomenon. Proponents of the memorial argue that it is morally and financially unwise for the UC system to continue investing in corporations that contribute to the growing climate crisis.

The memorial also says that successful divestment by the UC system could have a “positive impact on the growing global divestment movement, and thereby hasten the transition to renewable energy.”

To meet the Paris Climate Accords’ goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, not only would planned fossil fuel energy infrastructure need to be canceled, but current infrastructure may need to be shut down earlier than planned, according to a study released July 1.

Critics of the memorial, however, claim that divestment is an ineffective means of countering climate change, citing that it is expensive because it will reduce funding for other UC programs. They also argue that divestment will not have as large an impact on climate change as proponents may suggest.

“Actions to quickly reduce carbon emissions need to be implemented at the campus level,” critics say in the memorial’s section on opposition. “UC faculty who are concerned about this issue should aim their lobbying efforts at their local campuses.”

The origins of the memorial can be traced back to 2013, when faculty and student activists across the UC system first started the Fossil Free UC movement. Associated Students of UCSD (ASUCSD) passed the Divestment Resolution that same year, demanding a freeze on new fossil fuel investments and a five year timeline for complete divestment. In April 2016, the UCSD Academic Senate also passed a Divestment Resolution.

In 2017, 600 students and 700 faculty in the UC system continued to advocate for full divestment, according to a statement from the Office of the Chief Investment Officer of the UC Regents. UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla also announced his support of the fossil fuel divestment movement in 2017 alongside three other UC chancellors.

In 2018, UC Office of the President (UCOP) Chief Investment Officer (CIO) Jagdeep Singh Bachher announced that the University of California would not make new investments while it decreases its holdings in fuel and oil companies in the long term. The UCOP explicitly stated that this decision is not divestment, and that the UC system does not make blanket divestments.

Divestment supporters criticize CIO Bachher’s announcement for not including a detailed timeline of decreasing holdings. According to Halgren, despite the UC system’s efforts to decrease its fossil fuel investments, it continues to hold billions in stocks.

“[Bachher] and his main adviser on this issue continue to make statements indicating a fundamental misunderstanding of both the financial and moral consequences of their financial decisions,” Halgren said. “It seems that his primary goal is to maintain complete control over investment decisions and he is willing to make compromises to preserve that freedom.”

Julianna Domingo is a contributing writer for The Triton.

Correction: This article was updated at 5:30 p.m. on July 12, 2019 to correct the number of campuses that have approved the memorial. A previous version said that only five campuses approved the memorial when all of them have. We apologize for this error.