Last night, I attended a meeting of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party's Resolutions Committee to speak on behalf of a resolution I wrote. The resolution calls for the University of California and California State University endowments, and institutional investors California Public Employees Retirement Systems and California State Teachers' Retirement System to divest from fossil fuels within five years.
And I wore clean underwear to the meeting. Just to spite Fox News.
The reasons behind the resolution are simple. Climate change caused by burning of fossil fuels is the greatest challenge facing the next few generations of humanity. Efforts to legislate solutions have often been stalled by fossil-fueled politicians; hence, a movement has sprung up to divest institutional funds from fossil fuel companies, popularized by Bill McKibben in his Rolling Stone piece on global warming's terrifying new math.
The "warm" argument for divestment points out the morality. It's not primarily an economic strategy, but a moral and political one. Just like in the struggle for civil rights or the fight to end Apartheid in South Africa, the more we can make climate change a deeply moral issue, the more we will push society towards action. Fossil fuel divestment, explicitly modeled on the successful anti-apartheid movement, has been endorsed by Nelson Mandela. If it's wrong to wreck the planet, than it's also wrong to profit from that wreckage. At the same time, divestment builds political power by forcing our nation's most prominent institutions and individuals (many of whom sit on college boards) to choose a side. Divestment sparks a big discussion and gets prominent media attention, moving the case for action forward.
The "cold" argument for supporting divestment recognizes that smart institutions will get out of the carbon bubble before it bursts. Investors are now beginning the long ugly process of grappling with the fact that the unburnable carbon in fossil fuels will create stranded assets, i.e., assets worth less on the market than on a balance sheet. One estimate has 55% of investors' portfolios exposed to risk. Standard & Poors warns of oil firms' credit downgrades. The Motley Fool sees fossil fuels as modern asbestos stocks.
And getting on the fossil fuel divestment bandwagon is smart politics. The Fossil Free website shows over 250 colleges and universities have movements calling for their endowments to divest from fossil fuels. Give them a reason to enthuse about Democratic Party action.
Of course, Fox News doesn't like the fossil free movement. A Fox News host claimed that those of us who want to divest from fossil fuels don't want clean underwear. My retort, via Twitter: "hey @FoxNews - I wear clean silk lingerie and I support #fossilfree divestment. But no one who believes the BS you spew will ever see it."
Since Ventura County became the first Democratic party in the nation to call for fossil fuel divestment last week, we've been joined by other Democratic clubs in California. If you're interested in doing the same, here's a template resolution:
WHEREAS, almost every government in the world has agreed that any warming above a 2°C (3.6°F) rise would be unsafe. We have already raised the temperature 0.8°C (1.4°F), which has caused far more damage than most scientists expected - a third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic, and since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, consequences of inaction will result in devastating floods and drought;
WHEREAS, scientists estimate that humans can release roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees, while proven coal, oil, and gas reserves equal about 2,795 gigatons of CO2, or five times the amount we can release to maintain 2 degrees of warming;
and WHEREAS, California's institutions of higher education and pension funds should encourage only those investments that allow students and retirees to live healthy lives without the impact of a warming planet, and thus campaigns to divest from fossil fuels have begun at campuses within both the University of California and California State University systems;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the (your county) Democratic Party calls upon the University of California and California State University endowments, and CALPERS and CALSTRS institutional funds to immediately stop new investments in fossil fuel companies, to take steps to divest all holdings from the top 200 fossil fuel companies as determined by the Carbon Tracker list within five years, and to release updates available to the public, detailing progress made toward full divestment;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Democratic Party send a copy of this resolution to the Governor of the State of California, Board of Regents of the University of California, Chancellor of the California State University system, and officials at CalPERS and CalSTRS, asking support for divestment from fossil fuels.
I'm very pleased to report that the Los Angeles County resolutions committee passed my fossil fuel divestment resolution unanimously - one committee member stated "You had me at the first 'whereas' clause." It'll go on to the full party meeting next week, where I'm told that it'll probably be approved on a routine basis. And I'll wear clean underwear in support...but won't post pix to prove it.
About 500 students are currently blockading entrances to the University of California Board of Regents meeting at UC San Francisco this morning, where the Regents are scheduled to vote on a budget that presumes a 24 percent across-the-board increase on UC tuitions over four years. Picketing students have pledged to shut the meeting down.
According to Charlie Eaton, one of the organizers of the protest and co-author of a report released this week that charged the Regents with employing exotic financial instruments that doubled the UC system's debt load over three and a half years, as of 8:45AM PT only a third of the Regents have made it inside the building. About 100 students are inside, according to Eaton.
Meg Whitman just spent $100 million in her bid for Governor of California, $91 of which came from her own pocket. It disgusts me that a candidate who claims she can get California on the right track injects into her campaign millions of her own wealth to fuel her own ambitions and propaganda. What could come of that money? Surely, enough to ease some of problems facing hardworking Californians. For students, this money could actually place importance on the value of our education. It made me wonder what this money could do for the student who couldn't return to college this fall because of a reduction in his financial aid, about the student who couldn't pay the latest UC fee hikes, and about the student whose family cannot afford to send her to college at all.
Attorney General Jerry Brown, on the other hand, knows the issues facing parents and students, starting two public schools in Oakland in his tenure as Mayor. He understands the value of an education and how to engage students with all interests. Brown whole-heartedly agrees that more attention must be due to California's public school system in order for it to survive. Similarly, we must also turn to leaders like Mayor Gavin Newsom, whose City and County of San Francisco shines in California as the epitome of innovative ideas and pragmatic solutions put to practice.
As young people become more disenfranchised by California's political system, it is crucial to change the status quo that is tearing our state apart. Those who place personal ambition over proposing legitimate solutions to fix California must be stopped. As a student who fears the loans awaiting her upon graduation, I highly trust Brown and Newsom's abilities to help students like myself gain affordable higher education.
One of Mayor Newsom's main priorities as a candidate for Lieutenant Governor is to get the public education system back on track, by increasing the quality and accessibility of schools within the CSU and UC systems. He understands every student's desire for a quality education without being penalized by endless fees, finding themselves ineligible for state grants, and carrying a heavy burden of loans upon graduating. Higher education should be accessible to all, regardless of financial background. How else will California move forward with the leaders of tomorrow if they can't afford the rights to an education?
While shaking up San Francisco, Mayor Newsom made unprecedented progress in promoting an affordable and accessible higher education by launching "SF Promise," an initiative that guarantees an college education, with financial support provided, at San Francisco State university to all qualified San Francisco State Unified School District students. Projects like this, which benefits hundreds of students, can easily grow at the state level, spurring enrollment in colleges across the state.
The partnership of Brown and Newsom in Sacramento will bring the Golden State out of a depression it suffers on all levels. Our state will thrive once again through job growth, environmental protection, reduced crime rates, clean energy expansion, a strong education system, and so much more that will rebuild California.
Students of California, this is our election to win. We can no longer sit and watch as unqualified persons are elected to office only to serve private interests. By mobilizing by the thousands, we'll be able to fight for our rights as young people looking towards a brighter future. By electing Gavin Newsom for Lt. Governor, we'll have our voice heard on the UC Board of Regents and CSU Board of Trustees, strongly fighting for affordable education for everyone. No more will students forego a higher education or be prevented from returning to school. Please join students from across the state as we build the movement to reform California at www.studentsforgavinnewsom.com.
Manisha Goud is the Los Angeles Regional Director for Students for Gavin Newsom. Join Students for Gavin Newsom on Facebook at www.facebook.com/studentsfornewsom.
During the University of California Board of Regents meeting today in Riverside, I explained to the Board why I think it's time all of us -- students, community leaders, bloggers, and education advocates -- reject further student fee increases. Simply put, I don't think it's appropriate to consistently shift the tax burden, year after year, to one of the segments of our society that are least capable of affording the costs.
Adjusted for inflation, student fees have more than doubled at the UC and CSU systems and more than tripled at the community colleges since 1990. When the state dissuades students from pursuing a higher education, we only rob ourselves of potential tax revenues in later years and increase the number of today's youths who will be tomorrow's prisoners or recipients of aid. To address our budget woes, we need to turn away from the easy fix of taxing students and begin the process to repeal the two-thirds legislative majority requirement to pass budgets and adjust taxes.
A transcript of my remarks to the board is below the fold, and you can also listen to audio here.
(Good as always to hear from our Lt. Governor. - promoted by Julia Rosen)
My job and your government's job are to protect your job today and tomorrow. California's legislators are left little choice but to swallow hard and accept a very bad budget deal put together in secret without any public hearings and public input, all contrary to the open meeting laws of the state. The tragedy of this budget is that it robs our ability to advance our values and expand our economy by insuring a well-educated workforce. The budget does not allow us to provide adequate resources for the least among us. The budget does not allow transportation, water, and sanitation systems to keep up with population growth. Sadly this budget will force us to abandon robust research programs that will create tomorrow's wealth.
The governor wants to be known as the green governor, the education governor, the reform governor, yet he has utterly failed to lead a budget process that in the remotest way advances any of these goals. There is no real reform of education, prisons, or the state funded healthcare programs in this budget. Yet it is in real reform that efficiencies and increased effectiveness is found and fair cuts can be made. A significant change is in labor contracts that are unilaterally altered, setting aside a long and honorable negotiation process between labor and management. Where is the effort in this budget to advance the green economy?
Unfortunately the budget that is to be voted on in the days ahead does nothing to position California for a quick return to a healthy and growing economy. In fact the budget hastens the starvation of our educational programs at every level, thereby directly and in many case irreversibly damaging millions of our children. The budget accelerates the financial decline of the University of California and the largest university in America, the California State University. California needs teachers, engineers, nurses, doctors, and every other job skill. This budget gets a D in meeting the educational needs of tomorrow's workforce.
The quality of education at the University of California (where I have been a graduate student since 2003) is plummeting. I hear from my friends at the California State Universities that things are looking equally bad there, too. Why are these proud institutions rapidly losing their reputation as world-class centers of learning?
Budget cuts. Every year since 2003, the budget for the UC and the CSU have been slashed. This year, it's worse than ever.
While the university administration and Republicans in Sacramento can blame the financial crisis for the free-falling budget, make no mistake.
The budget for California education has not been slashed because of the 2008 bank mess. The budget for education has been slashed because of the failed Republican ideology which says that all public money is "socialism."
Well, like you, I really like my "socialist" libraries, highways, fire departments, and universities. The anti-public Republican philosophy is bankrupt, and the damage from that philosophy is continuing to spread. Over the past five years, I've watched as the GOP has gutted the University of California.
Members of the union that represents faculty at the 23 campuses of the California State University system have voted to strike, potentially creating disruptions at campuses around the state, including Fullerton and Long Beach.
"We do not want to strike, but we will," John Travis, president of the California Faculty Association, said at a news conference this morning at Cal State Dominguez Hills announcing that 94 percent of union members who voted agreed to the job action. "We are a faculty that is fed up and we are a faculty that is ready to walk off the job."
Union officials said they plan to hold two-day strikes to minimize disruptions to student classes, to take place in April and May.
Faculty members are unhappy that they've been unable to reach a new contract agreement with the CSU system since the previous contract expired in 2005. They also are displeased with their pay structure and heavier workloads.
So it looks like the faculty will be marching after all... Though in two-day shifts that are aimed to minimize any negative impact on the students and their education. And though CSU can afford to pay its faculty better, it doesn't look like the Chancellor and administration are interested in treating the faculty with the respect that they deserve. Let's just hope that this wakes up the state, and that CSU starts treating its staff with more respect.