Coal divestment advances

Today the California coal divestment bill, SB 185, cleared another hurdle. The Assembly Committee on Public Employees, Retirement, and Social Security voted to send the bill to the Assembly Appropriations Committee by a vote of 5 to 1.

With this success, much remains to be done. You can help by signing this petition and contacting your Assembly Member. Legislators respond to their constituents, so be sure to let your voice be heard about this important legislation.

“I’m delighted to see SB 185 advance in the Assembly. California once again leads the nation in saying ‘no’ to fossil fuels and ‘yes’ to investment in clean energy jobs,” said RL Miller, chair of the California Democratic Party’s environmental caucus.

Carla West of 350 Bay Area also spoke. Carla, a California divestment organizer currently working with 350.org, said: “These pension funds are intended to secure a stable future, but that is impossible if we keep investing in fossil fuels. We are glad to see this bill to divest from coal pass through the first committee."

Several other Fossil Free California and 350 Bay Area members were at the meeting to demonstrate their support for the bill. Investment manager Jodi Neuman of Trillium Asset Management also gave the committee some hard data: fossil free investing has outperformed the S&P 500. Therefore, it would be financially responsible for them to support SB 185.

If passed by the Assembly and signed by the Governor, the bill will ban investments in thermal coal companies by the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS). It will be the first action by a state legislature in the US to mandate any kind of fossil fuel divestment.

You can learn more here about the devastating effects of coal pollution. It's bad for the environment, for public health, and for the financial stability of California's pension funds. To say nothing of its outsize contribution to global warming.

To keep the inevitable temperature rise at less than 2 degrees Celsius, we must stop burning coal. And we must stop investing in the companies that traffic in this dangerous carbon-based drug.

Please sign the petition now!

Cross-posted at Fossil Free California.

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CalSTRS rally for teachers and students

On June 12, the Fossil Free California rally at CalSTRS headquarters drew 50 protesters, an extraordinary number for an 8:15 am gathering on a weekday in West Sacramento. Thanks to the organizational efforts of Jane Vosburg, FFCA CalSTRS coordinator, people came from all over Northern California, including several 350 Bay Area members. Among them were many active and retired teachers who wanted to let the California State Teachers' Retirement System know that their pension money should exclude all fossil fuel companies. Here is a slideshow of the rally.

Following the rally, many of the protestors attended a meeting of the CalSTRS Investment Committee. Tom Steyer, founder of NextGen Climate, presented a compelling case for divestment to the committee. (Video here.) He pointed out that over the last 35 years, a fossil-free index investment would have outperformed an index that included oil, gas, and coal. Coal, in particular, is a bad investment now, and he would recommend immediate divestment.

As for oil, Steyer said that exploration and extraction costs continue to mount, while costs for renewables are on a rapid downward trajectory. Every doubling of the solar installed base, for example, results in a 24 percent reduction in costs. In that competitive environment, he does not see that high oil prices are sustainable; as a result, over time oil companies are likely to lose significant value due to stranded assets. This is a generational issue, he said, and the pressure on fossil fuels will continue to increase as younger people engage. "The only way it will stop is if all the scientists are wrong."

Jane Vosburg and Tom SteyerThe committee members were receptive, clearly considering how to find a practicable path toward divestment that would not compromise their concern for fiduciary responsibility. Several of our members—including retired teachers and CalSTRS members Jane and Bill Vosburg, Deborah Silvey, and Joyce Banzhaf—spoke about the dangers of climate catastrophe, the futility of shareholder engagement, and the financial risks of continuing to hold fossil fuel investments. (Video here—the photo shows Jane Vosburg and Tom Steyer.)

Teachers Carmen Osorio of Santa Rosa and Heather MacLeod of Oakland described their students' responses to learning about climate change. Osorio pointed out that global warming affects Latinos and other people of color disproportionately, and she says it is difficult to instill hope in her students without action from their elders. MacLeod told a story of an eighth-grade student of hers, never previously interested in math or science, who was so astonished by the 600,000-year "hockey-stick" temperature graph that she became passionately interested in climate change—and in graphs. MacLeod said that, as teachers, we must be able to tell our students we're doing something.

As all the speakers said, there is something that CalSTRS can do, for the teachers and for the students: begin the process of divestment now.

Rally photos are available on Flickr (Creative Commons).

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