July 15, 2019

University of California Faculty Call on Regents to Divest UC Funds from Fossil Fuels

Academic Senate votes in support of divestment memorial ahead of this Wednesday’s Regents meeting 

San Diego, CA — Today, the University of California’s Academic Senate is announcing the passage of a Memorial stating: “The U.C. Academic Senate petitions the Regents to divest the University’s endowment portfolio of all investments in the 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies with the largest carbon reserves.” The University of California system is one of the largest and most prestigious universities in the world, where much of the fundamental research establishing the role of fossil fuel burning in climate change has taken place. The memorial was voted on by faculty at all 10 campuses of the university system, and received a combined vote of 77% in favor.  

University system President Janet Napolitano will present the memorial results to the Regents at their next meeting – Wednesday, July 17 at UC San Francisco – where faculty will press the Regents to take decisive, timely action to divest. According to its 1868 charter, governance of the University is shared between the Regents and the Academic Senate. If the Regents agree with the Memorial, UC will join the largest divestment campaign in history, now including investment portfolios containing over $9 trillion dollars in assets.

Eric Halgren, a Professor of Neuroscience at UC San Diego, is among those who have been working for the past 5 years for this memorial. He said his actions are driven by thinking about his daughter (who is attending UC Berkeley) and her generation.

“A thousand years from now, our generation will be remembered only for what it did, or did not do, to address the climate crisis. We have the tools to meet this challenge; all we lack is a shared political will. We hope that divestment by UC will remind us all of the urgency and importance of acting now to build a fossil free future,” Halgren said.

Memorials are extremely rare, as they require a multi-step procedure including two rounds of votes across the 10 campuses. The path to this Memorial began when students petitioned the faculty and Regents to divest from fossil fuels. From there UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, and UC Santa Cruz passed resolutions in favor of divestment, culminating in UC San Francisco initiating the Memorial process. The proportion in favor in the final vote, conducted electronically during June 2019, and open to all members of the Academic Senate, ranged across the 10 campuses from 70 to 93%, demonstrating a strong consensus that owning fossil fuel stocks is inconsistent with the scientific conclusion that fossil fuels must be phased out to avoid further catastrophic climate change.

Scientists warn we are skating dangerously close to a ‘point of no return,’ including the recent IPCC report emphasizing the next decade as pivotal in taking transformative action on the climate crisis. Ongoing and future impacts include flooding of cities home to billions of people from tropical storms and sea level rise, devastating droughts, unprecedented fires, massive climate refugee migrations, widespread starvation, species extinctions, and epidemics of tropical diseases. Time is running out: we must act now to reduce emissions and secure climate justice. The longer we wait, the more expensive and less effective mitigation measures will be.

The UC Regents meeting will be held Wednesday and Thursday, July 17th and 18th, at the Conference Center, UC San Francisco Mission Bay campus. It is likely that the Memorial announcement will occur during the Public Comment session, which begins at 830 am on the 17th. Additional information and contacts are available at a website created by faculty for the memorial vote, including the vote tallies and the arguments made by faculty for and against the memorial.


Bill McKibben, an acknowledged leader of this worldwide movement, stated that if UC divested “This would be one of the biggest moments in the seven-year history of the fossil fuel divestment movement. It would add momentum and weight to the fast-growing global movement to directly confront the forces that are directly responsible for the climate crisis.

Prof. John Foran, UCSB: “We are at a hinge of history, where what we do now, and going forward, will define who we are and what we can do for future generations as well as this generation of all the people alive now on the planet. Divestment at the UC is a small step on this journey, but one that we know will create ripples that join the great currents of change that are underway all around us.”

Prof. Clair Brown, UCB: “Investing in fossil fuel companies makes no sense–from a social, financial, or educational perspective. Under the Paris Agreement, ~ 33% of known oil reserves, 50% of natural gas reserves, and 80% of coal reserves must remain in the ground. This creates “stranded assets” that will decrease the market value of oil, gas, and coal companies as eventually the stock markets realistically value reserves. Further, the social cost of carbon is already high and will continue to rise along with the GHG emissions. UC is about the environment and the quality of life we pass on to students and future generations, and the UN reports clearly indicate that must stop burning fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are no longer responsible or ethical investments.”

Prof. Tom Newman, UCSF: “As a UCSF professor emeritus who has degrees from UCSC, UCSD and UCB, I have great affection for the University of California. I would like to become even more proud of UC by seeing us join the many other universities, cities, medical associations and other entities that have divested from fossil fuel companies. It is the right thing to do, both morally and financially.”

Dr. Naomi Goldenson, Postdoctoral Scholar, UCLA: “Climate change is no longer an abstract projection. More and more signals of the warming underway have been emerging since I began studying the climate only 10 years ago. Academic Senate faculty have now added their voice to an emerging consensus. It is not enough to set ambitious goals. The Regents should signal that the UC is ready for, and willing to bet on, serious climate action that means the demise of fossil fuels sooner than later.”

Prof. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, UCSD, member of the National Academy of Sciences for climate science, and well-known for working with the Pope and other religious groups to raise awareness of the moral dimensions of climate change, said “Most greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have come from the wealthy one billion people in the world, but the worst consequences such as droughts, flooding, famine and disease from climate disruption will be borne by the poorest three billion in the world. We have a moral duty to our fellow humans, as well as future generations, to bend the global warming curve now while we still have a chance to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.” 

Prof. Jeffrey Severinghaus, UCSD, also a member of the National Academy of Sciences for his work in climate science, said “UCSD is where climate science got started and we’re proud to be home to some of the world’s best climate scientists. We’re also national leaders in sustainability, and have a commitment to become a carbon-neutral campus by 2025. Carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere now from fossil fuel burning is a time bomb with a 100 year fuse. Climate science tells us that we must act now to prevent future disasters.” 

Prof. Adam Aron, UCSD, said it was important for faculty to show moral leadership. “In the name of social justice, UC faculty prevailed upon the school to divest from apartheid South Africa in the 1980s. That was an important component of consciousness-raising and pressure that ultimately led to change. Similarly, there is a question of justice about divesting our funds from fossil fuel companies: for people in low-lying countries, for those most vulnerable to extreme droughts and the wars arising from them, and generally, for all those who will suffer because the rich world has massively polluted for over two hundred years”.


Contact: Prof. Eric Halgren, (858) 822-8385 ehalgren@ucsd.edu