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. 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.”

CalSTRS investment

Jane Vosburg and Tom Steyer at CalSTRS investment meeting.

The 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.)

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).