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Rudolph: Climate change and public health

Global Divestment Day speech by Dr. Linda Rudolph highlighted public health.

On February 13 at a Sacramento rally, Dr. Linda Rudolph calls for CalPERS to divest from fossil fuel companies.

On Global Divestment Day, 60 climate activists launched the Fossil Free California campaign in front of CalPERS headquarters in Sacramento.Three speakers addressed the need for divestment, Dr. Linda Rudolph, Jane Vosburg, and Russell Kilday-Hicks.

Dr. Rudolph, the first speaker, is a CalPERS retiree who worked for 30 years as a preventive medicine physician in both local and state government in California, including serving as the founding co-chair of the state’s Climate Action Team Public Health Work Group. Her speech:

What a great way to celebrate Global Divestment Day! I’m going to talk about four reasons I want CalPERS to divest from the biggest oil, gas, and coal companies. First, CalPERS has billions of dollars invested in the oil companies that own the largest fossil fuel reserves—companies like Chevron and Exxon. These are risky investments. The science is clear: if we don’t leave a lot of those fossil fuel reserves in the ground, we face runaway climate chaos. That’s the reason that our legislative leaders are proposing ambitious plans to move California away from oil, to clean renewable energy, energy efficiency, and alternative fuels. YES. Thank you, Senator de León.

Oil investors have already lost billions of dollars as oil prices drop. As we in California and others around the nation and the world demand stronger actions on climate change, the demand for fossil fuels is going to drop, and oil’s value will drop even more. We can’t say for sure how quickly that will happen. But we can say that we don’t want our public pension funds left holding a bag full of “stranded assets”—oil, gas, and coal that cannot be used.

Second, CalPERS has been a leader in shareholder activism, pushing corporations slowly toward better environmental, labor, and social practices. We appreciate and applaud that. Now CalPERS and CalSTRS want to “engage” with the fossil fuel industry on climate risk. With all due respect, we think that’s a dead end. The fossil fuel industry has made it clear that it intends to keep drilling, exploring, and burning dirty fossil fuels as long as they can, regardless of the risk. After all,  their core business model relies on the ever more extreme extraction and burning of the dirty fossil fuels that are wrecking the planet. Engagement won’t work. We need a more aggressive divestment strategy.

Third, I’m proud of California’s leadership on climate change; for many years, I was one of the thousands of state and local government employees who work hard every day to implement our climate change laws. But the oil companies are pouring millions of dollars into fighting those laws.

I don’t want our public pension dollars going to support oil companies that are doing their best to undermine our existing laws and to fight our every effort to address climate change.

Finally, I’ve worked as a public health physician in state and local health departments for my entire career, to prevent disease and promote health. Climate change is the biggest health threat of this century—it literally threatens the food, air, water, shelter, and security on which human life depends.

CalPERS has a legal responsibility to act in the best interests of its members and their beneficiaries. Nothing is a greater threat to  my children or grandchildren or the future well-being of the young people entering the CalPERS workforce today than climate change. I don’t want my retirement dollars supporting fossil fuel companies that are acting recklessly every day to threaten the health and well-being of people in California and around the world.

If it’s wrong to wreck the planet, then it’s wrong to profit from wrecking the planet. We need CalPERS and CalSTRS to start divesting from fossil fuels NOW.