Cal Poly was recognized as a leader in sustainable development, but one factor taints that title: investing in fossil fuels.
The fight against fossil fuel investment spreads to San Luis Obispo and the California State University (CSU) system, as a group of students calls on these universities to divest from fossil fuels.
A few months after graduating with a major in physics and a minor in environmental studies in the winter of 2020, Cal Poly alumnus Lisa Swartz trained “Stop UHC”, a CSU-wide student-led coalition calling on all CSU campuses to divest their endowments, corporations and other university affiliate accounts from fossil fuels.
“The use of fossil fuels has to go down for us to have a livable planet, and it’s not a good investment for you or for the planet,” Swartz said. “If it’s wrong to destroy the climate we all depend on, it’s wrong to try to profit from it.
Divestment is the concept of selling investments of subsidiaries or assets of an existing business – in this case Cal Poly and other CSU campuses holding investments in fossil fuel companies.
The Cal Poly Corporation has invested around $ 1.24 million in fossil fuels, or about 1% of its investment portfolio, as reported by the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
Additionally, the Cal Poly Foundation has invested approximately $ 5.6 million – 2.1% of the overall endowment value – in the “energy sector,” which encompasses both renewables and fuels. fossils, according to university spokesperson Matt Lazier.
Cal Poly values ”social and environmental responsibility”, according to its mission statement. Swartz said the university’s current investment in fossil fuels conflicts with this statement.
As of October 6, CSU has pledged not to pursue any future investments in fossil fuels in the system’s investment portfolios. The chancellor of the CSU has tasked the CSU’s investment advisory committee to liquidate some fossil fuel bonds, exit a mutual fund for direct energy and further reduce exposure to fossil fuels.
Despite the CSU system’s commitment to divestment, Cal Poly’s investment portfolio has not changed
The goals of the coalition
Divesting from CSU has three main demands: immediately freezing any new investment in fossil fuel companies, divesting from High 100 listed coal, oil and gas companies and reinvest funds in ethical investments within five years, and take responsibility for monitoring these goals.
CSU senior engineer and co-chair Nicholas Trautman said the team is aiming for a two-tier approach: one tier targets individual campuses, in this case Cal Poly, and the other tier targets the CSU system in as a whole, since the two entities hold separate pools of money.
With the recent divestment of the CSU system, the team is now focusing on the legislative hurdle to fully cede the remaining fossil fuel obligations, Trautman said.
The group currently consists of around 10 members, including Cal Poly and other CSU students, as well as three co-chairs and a retired San Francisco State University faculty member who advises the coalition. . The organization also participated in this year’s club showcase as Fossil Free Cal Poly, junior in environmental and forestry management and Divest, CSU co-chair Heath Hooper said.
Last school year, the group garnered support by sharing their petition, advocating with the Cal Poly community, and arranging a meeting with Cal Poly president Jeffrey Armstrong, though there was no had consensus, Hooper said.
Over the summer, the three Co-Chairs and the Academic Advisor attended lobby meetings with CSU West Investment Advisory Committee members and Board members to assess support and seek advice.
“Now we can hopefully take [the CSU system’s commitment to divest] in another meeting with the Cal Poly administration, ”Hooper said.
While the team estimates that the whole process may take five years, the team set some goals after the divestment, including reinvesting in renewables and having CSU issue a suggestion to campuses explaining the logic of divestment, Hooper said.
According to professor of civil and environmental engineering Derek Manheim, there is still a lack of accountability in the fossil fuel industry.
Environmental externalities, such as hydraulic fracturing or leakage of gas emissions from abandoned wells, are neither quantified nor factored into the total cost of its environmental impact, he said.
“We could take that into account one way or another; whether through carbon taxes or a cap and trade system, ”said Manheim. “To stop subsidies for burning natural gas and other types of fossil fuel resources.”
Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels are a major major contributor to global warming. To exceed 1.5 ° C of warming above the pre-industrial level by 2030 would expose the planet to the most catastrophic effects of climate change, according to a special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of United Nations.
Some of these effects include extreme heat and heat-related mortality, destructive forest fires and depleted water resources, according to the report.
Manheim said as California begins to shift to renewable energy resources, Cal Poly should follow suit and be a leader, looking locally and statewide.
“There are a lot of opportunities around the central coast for the current wind farm [and] PG&E is moving from nuclear power to something else in the region, ”said Manheim.
According to Swartz, aside from the environmental aspect of investing in fossil fuels, continuing to invest is a bad economic decision.
In the 2020 Energy outlook For BP, one of the world’s leading oil and gas companies, analysts said the era of oil demand is over and may not return to pre-pandemic levels.
“He subsequently recovers but never comes back to pre-COVID[-19] levels, ”said Spencer Dale, BP’s chief economist in a Business Standard item.
Scott Seacrest, financial advisor at Natural Investments LLC in San Luis Obispo and advisor to the coalition, said people often made an inaccurate distinction between environmental and economic interests.
“Our economic system is based on the environment we live in,” he said. “To think that they are separated and that one can be healthy and that one cannot is [inaccurate]. ”
Seacrest said the physical process of acquiring fossil fuels has become outdated and unreasonable.
“We must go and find [fossil fuels] in the world and assess it in these inhospitable areas, ”he said. “Get it out of the ground, take it to all the gas stations and then burn it.”
Success of divestment
According to Fossil free, a 350.org project, more than 100 educational institutions across the country and the world have pledged to part or fully divest their fossil fuel stocks from their endowments.
In May 2020, the fully ceded UC system from fossil fuels and has invested over $ 1 billion in clean energy projects. In FebruaryThe University of Southern California has frozen new investments in fossil fuels and plans to sell current investments in fossil fuels over the next few years.
Effects of divestment
Hope Springer, head of environmental management and protection, said she hoped the divestment from CSU would highlight the power of the dollar. She wants Cal Poly faculty and staff to be more aware of their investments to fight complacency.
From this movement, Springer believes Cal Poly can align itself more with its goal of being a progressive university.
“Cal Poly has obviously had many [diversity] problems, and maybe they could be improved by doing something for sustainability, ”she said.
After seeing universities, churches, governments, even the city of San Luis Obispo choose to divest from fossil fuels, it begs the question “Why?” Said Trautman.
Public perception around the fossil fuel industry and its role in society needs to change, he said.
“Divestment is a great way [to] use our voice as students and leverage our power as students to voice our concerns [for the future known]- that if we continue on the road we have taken, the future is really bleak, ”said Trautman.