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What does the $5 trillion divestment movement mean for students? Hope.

This post was written by Sam Weinstein, a 19-year-old second year at UC Santa Cruz studying economics and sustainability studies. Sam has organized with Fossil Free UC since October 2015.


As a liberal, living in a liberal place, the past month has been a test of diplomacy. And as for most liberals living in this liberal place, I went through all five stages of grief in the last month. More than anything, the results of the presidential election reaffirm the work we are doing with Fossil Free UC, and the national, and even global, community we share feel tighter. This community — people who are ready and willing to focus all of their energy demanding that the institutions that represent us lead with us, and lead by example for our future, are called to action by the very real threat of the incoming regressive and corrupt Trump administration.

Even at UC Santa Cruz, where students are often passionate about conservation, the utter need to jam our foot in the door of climate justice before the next Cabinet appointees seal it shut became more visceral. At the UC Regents’ meeting in November this year, we channeled our energy as a UC-wide campaign by calling on Regent Richard Sherman to lead with us as a leader of a public institution, with the power to seize the tumultuous political moment, by making the moral and just decision to divest from fossil fuels. Students are yearning for the leaders of their institution to lead by example, by cutting all ties with an industry that blatantly perpetuates the climate crisis; students are yearning for divestment. In just a few days time, over 100 students signed a nonviolent direct action pledge, and many more are contributing to Fossil Free UC, displaying our pins and advocating for our message. Faculty are stand with us; 689 of them have signed an open letter to the UC. Regent Sherman himself has even said he “embraces our cause.” The time for change is now.

Earlier this week, a groundbreaking report revealed that the global fossil fuel divestment movement has doubled in size in the last 15 months alone. I had no idea the extent of the international support there was for fossil fuel divestment. This support is carried by 688 institutions across 76 countries, whose committed funds total over $5 trillion in assets. For comparison, $5 trillion is over eight times the US’s annual military budget; and the value of these divesting organizations, combined, is greater than all listed oil and gas companies.

We are in a political moment when domestic agencies are set to be run by people that will prioritize profit over people, and undo the much of the progress we’ve made at the national level. Despite this, I am confident in our campaign’s success. I know we will claim victory in divesting the UC from fossil fuels, because I trust our community, and I believe in our strategy and our power. If this divestiture is publicized correctly, we could quite easily spark a consumer-driven movement, to driving indirect support of the fossil fuel industry out of our consumption habits.

And this feels a whole lot like the conversation at my dinner table during Thanksgiving: I posed the question to my relatives, who have seen periods of activism in generations past and have come of age under the weight of a world that needs changing: “What do I do?” My dad’s friend, who had spent his career working for the National Parks Service while participating in activism, told me: “Organize, and get everyone to take one small step forward at the same time. This is how you can change the world.”

What does this announcement mean to youth divestment campaigns amidst an ominous Trump presidency? It means hope — a whole lot more people to take that step forward with us.