Who we are - The student campaign - In the news - Interview with Rebecca Solnit

May 2014
Issue # 1
View this email in your browser

Fossil Free UC Alumni News

From fossil fuels to a sustainable energy future

UC alumni display a banner, participate in a national Fossil Free conference, march on Earth Day, and address the Regents (clockwise from top left).
Who we are

We are alumni of the University of California who believe that UC must show bold leadership in combating the ever-increasing risk of catastrophic climate change and in promoting the transition to a clean-energy society. We wholeheartedly support the students at eight UC campuses who have passed resolutions calling on the Regents to divest the endowment of holdings in fossil fuel companies and to invest in renewable-energy solutions.

Climate change has become an urgent matter of national security for the US and the world, as documented in many reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other scientific and policy authorities. Given everything we know today, UC’s continued acquiescence in subsidizing and profiting from the fossil fuel industry makes a mockery of the university’s commitments to the welfare of its students, faculty, staff, and alumni, and profoundly contradicts and undermines its stated mission to “serve society as a center of higher learning, providing long-term societal benefits[...].”

Just as students at UC in the 1970s and 80s were ahead of the university administration in recognizing the moral imperative to divest from the economic framework of South African apartheid, so UC students now are taking the lead in demanding that the university end its complicity with climate destruction. Many UC alumni stand side-by-side with the students. With over 1,600,000 living alumni and numerous donors, we can exert a strong influence on President Napolitano and the Regents as they weigh a decision on divestment.

The fossil fuel divestment movement is spreading rapidly around the country. Even President Obama has endorsed it, saying in a 2013 Georgetown University speech: "I'm here to enlist your generation's help in keeping the United States of America a global leader in the fight against climate change. Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest.”

Alumni from across UC are organizing in person and online to raise awareness about divestment and communicate our views to the university administration. Together we are educating ourselves, writing letters and op-eds, participating in a UC task force on sustainable investing, organizing donors, and speaking at Regents meetings and other events. Please join us to grow this movement and make UC a climate leader.

The student campaign

Fossil Free UC was born in 2011-12 when four students at UC Berkeley launched a divestment campaign targeted at coal, calling on the university to divest the endowment of its holdings in 15 coal companies. The following academic year, the End Coal campaign broadened its scope to include gas and oil companies—becoming Fossil Free Cal—as members developed the case for divestment and presented it to high-ranking university officials.

In spring 2013, the campaign had two important victories. First, the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC), the representative body of Berkeley undergraduates, passed SB 10, which required fossil fuel divestment for its own $3 million fund and urged UC Berkeley and the entire UC system to do the same. Second, during the 2013 ASUC elections, a ballot item calling for UC Berkeley and UC-wide divestment was supported by 73% of UC Berkeley undergraduates.

Fossil Free UC Alumni calls on the UC Regents to divest the endowment of fossil fuel holdings and invest in climate solutions.

Get involved!


Help build alumni support for divestment at meetings of Fossil Free UC Alumni. Contact John Taylor at


Dirty Energy, Clean Solutions
May 9-11
San Francisco and Oakland

Re-Imagining Climate Justice
May 10

Speak at the next Regents' meeting
May 14


Fossil Free UC petition
Please sign the petition if you haven't already and forward the petition link to UC-affiliated family and friends:

Write letters
Write letters to the UC administration and newspapers. Contact Kathy Barnhart at

Meanwhile, the divestment campaign, renamed Fossil Free UC, was spreading to other UC campuses. So far, student governments at eight of the nine campuses have passed resolutions supporting UC-wide divestment from fossil fuels. And in May 2013, the first UC faculty resolution in support of divestment was passed by the academic senate at UC Santa Barbara.

The momentum has continued into the current 2013-14 academic year. Last September, the University of California Student Association (UCSA), the UC-wide student government, adopted fossil fuel divestment as a core campaign. In October, members of Fossil Free Cal met with the UC Office of the President’s Chief Investment Officer, Chief Financial Officer and Director of Sustainability to discuss the implications of divestment. In November, they began discussions with Chancellor Dirks. In December, the campaign made its first major faculty ally as energy expert and UC Berkeley professor Dan Kammen published a pro-divestment op-ed in the Daily Cal.

In spring 2014, UC Berkeley’s Graduate Assembly, the representative body of graduate students, became the first UC graduate student government to pass a divestment resolution. In an important step in the dialogue between students and university administrators, the Regents recently agreed to set up a task force with student representatives to investigate the feasibility of fossil fuel divestment. Looking to the future, Fossil Free UC has begun reaching out to faculty, staff and alumni and to the social justice communities on UC campuses to build a broad coalition in support of divestment.

Fossil Free UC in the news


Read about the rise of the UC divestment movement in an online story in CALIFORNIA, the alumni magazine of UC Berkeley.

The magazine also has two other current climate stories.

An article on the Keystone XL Pipeline discusses research by a UC Berkeley professor on the impact of President Obama’s upcoming decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. In contrast to conventional wisdom, which has it that Canadian tar sands oil will be delivered through other routes if the pipeline isn’t built, Maximillian Auffhammer finds that stopping the pipeline will result in 1 billion fewer barrels of tar sands extracted by 2030.

a meteorologist's tale explains how awareness of the carbon pollution caused by air travel led one family to give up flying for good. The meteorologist, Eric Holthaus, used a carbon footprint calculator developed at UC Berkeley.

In her words: Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit, a 1984 UCB alum with a degree in journalism, is the author of 15 books on art, the environment, social change, community, storytelling and wanderlust, including A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster (2009). In March she published an article on divestment and global warming, By the Way, Your Home Is On Fire, in We talked with her by email about climate-change activism and how alumni can help achieve UC fossil fuel divestment.
Q: Which of the arguments for UC divestment  moral, political, financial, etc. speaks to you most powerfully?

RS: They are so entangled! Because administrators will say they can't do it for financial reasons, but then you have to ask when finances are so important that moral reasons matter not. I mean, would you not sell stocks in slaves or guillotines or poisoning babies if they were profitable? Of course you would sell them, so you need to look at how dire climate change is and how this impacts it. And then you have to ask what finances mean, and the idea is that they're supposed to mean stability, well-being, a good future, and how can you imagine that on a planet where we've chosen the maximum rather than minimizing devastation options? "There are no jobs on a dead planet," an old enviro bumper-sticker read, and there's not a lot of good pension plans or endowments on a world in chaos. Choosing to minimize rather than maximize that chaos matters. So does recognizing the corrosive impact of fossil-fuel corporations and tycoons on our country's politics. 

It's really a battle between people who want to think in the narrowest terms possible and take refuge in conventional definitions, categories, and previous situations, while climate change is an unprecedented catastrophe whose underlying message is that everything is connected. The coal we mine in Wyoming or burn in Arizona affects the ice in the poles and thus sea level and acidifying oceans. The things we do now reshape the biosphere for future generations. The places we put our money affect our politics and thus our ecology. We are involved. 

I think that in many ways the political debate in this country is about systematic thinkers versus isolationists. The former believe that we are affected by social systems, which strongly influence who will succeed, who goes to prison, who is valorized and who denigrated; by environmental systems, whereby what we put on our crops goes into our water and food, for example; by economic systems; by political systems, whereby when we do crazy things to pursue petroleum in the middle east we set up blowback.

The isolationists are often insisting that nothing is connected, that poverty or debt are not produced by a system set up so that some among us have few chances to succeed and others are born on the gravy train, that we should not look at, say, pesticides in relation to wildlife or foreign policy in relation to animosity toward the USA. The fundamental belief of environmentalists is that everything is connected; it's what science teaches us about how ecosystems and the biosphere work; we are now applying that to economics as well, and to ethics. This can be a very beautiful vision when you're looking at intact ecosystems, and a terrifying one when you look at how we can ravage those harmonies and intricate, symphonic systems. 

Q: Do you think the UC Board of Regents can be persuaded to vote for divestment? If so, what would tip the scale?

RS: I think it is very possible. One thing is that right now divestment looks radical. As more and more groups do it
like Pitzer College just the other day!it will become normal and "sane" and conceivable. Abolishing slaverya common analogy to divestmentwas seen as a crazy, extreme, radical position in the 1830s and 1840s. Its moral necessity became obvious to more and more people, thanks to slave testimony and abolitionist work. By the 1860s, it was necessary; now we find the practice abhorrent and outrageous, but it was  normal and widely accepted for 250 years. Women holding office, voting, having equal rights was a wild, transgressive, scary thing at one point; now opposing those things is a minority position widely disdained. 

Institutions are herd animals. Get some portion of the herd moving and the rest can at least imagine following. I also think that pressure works: it has to be difficult not to divest, because at least in terms of conceptual leaps and a bit of administration divestment involves some difficulties (though not as much as, say, the San Francisco Retirement Board has been claiming; the financial staff at these places exists to buy and sell and rebalance portfolios and the carbon sector of those portfolios is not so huge). Finally demonstrating that it is reasonable and maybe even wise, economically, to sell off those stocks will help. It's often described as though profit is being pitted against principle, but arguing that actually they can be reconciled readily is key.  

Q: You have been a environmental activist for a long time. At what point did the issue of global warming begin to command your attention?

RS: Well, I was worried about it all along, maybe since Bill McKibben's late 1980s essays in the New Yorker. For a long time, people thought it was a terrible thing that might happen, not something happening in the present. And for a long time, there were no obvious good ways to address it as an activist, beyond supporting legislative measures and watching international committees. Then about eight years ago the situation became more urgent, more grassroots and direct activism arose, and I found ways to engage with them, particularly through the brilliant and delightful people at The amazing coalitions against Bay-Area based Chevron
which conveniently does evil on so wide a scale, globally (from Burma to Ecuador to Richmond, CA, as well as a force pursuing conventional energy futures and pumping out carbon at top speed)--have also been a great to connect to from time to time. 

Q: What makes an activist? Why are some people activists and some people with the same political beliefs not? 

RS: You know, in order to be an activist you have to believe that you have a voice and you're connected, that what you do can matter. It's a privilege as well as a responsibility. Some people feel more marginal and powerless. You have to be willing to make waves, to be a little bit uncomfortable (or a lot when it comes to being attacked for your views, or arrested, or worse). You have to keep your eyes on the prize, have a sense that your own well-being doesn't exist in isolation from the well-being of others (which can be other people, as with the anti-Apartheid movement or other human rights campaigns) or others in the broadest sense (with environmental causes, which in the past quarter century we've been able to recognize more and more as something that is not separate from human well-being, since we got over the fantasy of wilderness as a place apart. Polar bears and Arctic women are severely affected by the PCB chemicals that come from the temperate zones, and we all saw what happened when the jetstream deviated because of changes in Arctic weather: the intense cold in the northeast of the USA. It's all connected.)

Q: You signed the Fossil Free UC petition a few months before you published your article, at a time when it was strictly a student campaign. How would it change the campaign to have organized, visible alumni participation in it?

RS: I think universities tend to dismiss students. They're young, they are short-term parts of the institution since they're going to graduate and move on, and they don't have very much power individually. Alumni status is for life, though, and universities look to their alumni for continuity and of course for money. So our opinion matters very much, and this campaign would be greatly helped by a strong, high-profile alumni presence. 

I am really proud to be part of this as an alumna of UC Berkeley (Grad School of Journalism, 1984), the daughter and sister of alumni, a visiting professor this semester, and someone who's now on the UC Berkeley alumni Wall of Fame. And a lifelong member of the alumni association, which I joined so that I can use UCB's vast, fantastic libraries forever; nearly every book I've written was researched in part at Cal. There are so many wonderful things about the UC universities and quite a few problematic things too
the whole history of US atomic weapons is very tangled up with Berkeley, for example. Which also has a department of peace studies. It's a complex organism. 

More information on fossil fuel divestment and climate change

Bill McKibben of argues that the political power of the fossil-fuel industry can be weakened by a grass-roots movement beginning on campuses.

A former SEC commissioner makes the case for divestment of fossil fuel companies by endowment fiduciaries of universities, foundations, and other institutions.

Bill Moyers talks with two leaders of the fossil fuel divestment movement.

A short animation
explains the "carbon bubble"
the prediction that the value of oil, coal, and gas reserves will decline sharply as society comes to realize that they must not be burned.

Fossil Free UC students post on Facebook and Twitter.
Copyright © 2014 Fossil Free UC Alumni, All rights reserved.

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp