San Diego Unified Calls on Pension Funds to Divest from Fossil Fuels

Originally published in the San Diego Free Press, August 25th 2016

The San Diego Unified School District’s (SDUSD) Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution on July 26th calling on the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (STRS) and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS) to divest their investment portfolios of stocks in fossil fuel companies. Recognizing the threat of global warming, the resolution also supports last year’s state legislation, SB 185, which requires PERS and STRS to divest from coal stocks. Most of SDUSD’s employees belong to these huge retirement systems.

San Diego Unified School Board Members and Superintendent Cindy Marten at the July 26 meeting.

San Diego Unified School Board Members and Superintendent Cindy Marten at the July 26 meeting.

SanDiego350 and other proponents believe that San Diego Unified is the first school district in California to pass such a resolution, joining the California Federation of Teachers, the Unified Teachers of Los Angeles, and other organizations who have publicly called on CalPERS and CalSTRS to divest from fossil fuel companies. San Diego Unified serves more than 130,000 students in pre-school through grade 12, has over 13,000 employees (including nearly 6,000 teachers), and is the second largest school district in California.

The resolution is a sign of growing momentum for fossil fuel divestment locally – only a couple of months ago the UC San Diego Academic Senate passed a similar resolution urging the UC Regents to divest the University of California’s investment portfolio of stocks in fossil fuel companies. The resolution recognizes the threat of global warming and UCSD’s pioneering contribution to climate science. It also acknowledges the risk to the UC endowment and pension funds from the prospect of falling fossil fuel stocks. The UC system also made the decision to divest from coal and tar sands in 2015, and earlier this July, CalSTRS voted unanimously to move $2.5 billion in assets to a low-carbon index fund.

The move isn’t only about transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy to reduce carbon emissions – A report last year showed that PERS and STRS had lost $840M from coal stocks during the 2014-15 fiscal year, and $5.1B in fossil fuel stocks overall.
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Open letter to the California Federation of Teachers

California Teachers for Fossil Fuel Divestment and SanDiego350.org sincerely thank the California Federation of Teachers for backing a resolution calling for CalSTRS and CalPERS to divest from fossil fuels. Your bold step in asking the two largest pension fund investors in the United States to remove the collective wealth of the education workers you represent, workers that spend their professional lives preparing others for the future, from being used in the fossil fuels industry, is the kind of tectonic shift this world needs.

Climate change must be addressed now and that means radically reducing our dependency on fossil fuels. Every fossil fuel tentacle, every branch that can be cut moves us forward in stopping our dependency on fossil fuels. The tentacle you have asked to be cut is a tentacle that relies on the income produced from investing in fossil fuels. There is no denying that the fossil fuel industries provide the best return, the best bang for the buck, and we have a significant amount of our collective wealth in our CalSTRS and CalPERS pensions invested in fossil fuels. However, we must look beyond today, this quarter, this year; we must think about the coming decade or two.

The science of climate change is very clear; we have at most a decade to begin taking bold action to avoid the worst that climate change could bring. So we are faced with a choice: begin significantly cutting our fossil fuels dependency now and maybe face an economic issue manifested to us in CalSTRS and CalPERS by a drop in investment revenue brought in by fossil fuels, or don’t cut our fossil fuel dependency and face broad environmental and social catastrophes unheard of by humankind.

If in this critical decade, we the people demand real action on climate change and that demand is followed by real action to greatly reduce our carbon dioxide emissions, the value of fossil fuel stocks will drop and those holding them will take the hit. Action on cutting carbon dioxide emissions doesn’t mean that we don’t provide alternatives in energy, and investing in these alternatives on a scale to meet the demand of replacing fossil fuels presents great opportunities for pension funds like ours.

If action isn’t taken on carbon dioxide emissions, the continued holding of fossil fuel stocks may not matter much in the decades ahead. As our youngest teachers begin to retire, what effect will our current choice of investments have on their future? Global insurance firms, military planners, government agencies dealing with water for agriculture and inland water transport, and many coastal communities and nations all see climate change as the most significant threat to the future for maintaining stable societies everywhere. How will a portfolio heavily invested in fossil fuels look thirty years from now if the threat of climate change is real? What future will there be for our students?

Divesting from fossil fuels is not just a sound proactive step to protect our collective wealth; it is an action that speaks to others that now is the time for action, for after now there will be no time left to make a difference. We ask you to go to our website, www.teachersfordivestment.com, and sign our petition. It’s going to take all of us working together to bring about the change that is needed. It will take the kind of leadership the CFT showed in choosing to support the resolution for fossil fuel divestment. CFT has boldly stepped forward and reinforced that California educators are about preparing others for their future, and that their students will not be facing a radically different planet due to climate change. We at California Teachers for Fossil Fuel Divestment and SanDiego350.org applaud your actions.

Thank you,

Gary Waayers

Member of: AFT Guild 1931; Palomar Faculty Federation;
California Teachers for Fossil Fuel Divestment;
SanDiego350.org