The Golden State was in the midst of its worst drought on
record when University of California freshman Jake Soiffer took
the microphone during the public statement session of the UC
Board of Regents meeting in San Francisco last November.
The topic of his comments to the 26-person committee that
oversees the state university system: climate change.
Soiffer told the UC regents at that meeting which
happened to coincide with the United Nations Warsaw Climate
Change Conference that youth are challenging their
own institutions and communities to take action to halt the
devastating effects of climate change, spurred by the
inability of governments to deal with the issue.
The Berkeley freshman is one of about 100 students spread
across the University of Californias nine campuses who
are pushing for the institution to take a stand on climate
change. They want the UC system to divest its $86 billion
portfolio of the worlds 200 largest fossil fuel companies
to send a clear political message that the business of these
companies is not morally or financially sustainable. Addressing
the Board of Regents meeting was just the start. By the
time I leave Berkeley, I want to see UC divest from fossil
fuel, says Soiffer.
Three thousand miles away from Berkeley, at Middlebury
College in Vermont, student groups and faculty members also
have been pushing for their school to divest from fossil fuel
companies. With a nearly $1 billion endowment, Middlebury
is dwarfed by the UC system, but it has a reputation as a top
liberal arts college and a prestigious board and alumni
network. The school boasts the first environmental studies
program in the U.S., and many of its students identify closely
with Vermonts intense environmentalism. Middlebury junior
Fernando Sandoval Jimenez, who is majoring in environmental
studies and geography, is confident that he and his fellow
student activists will be successful in forcing
We know it is going to be a fight, but we are prepared
for the fight, he says.
Over the past two years, students at approximately 400 U.S.
campuses have been pushing their universities and colleges to
divest from the fossil fuel industry. The divestiture movement
has spread to municipalities and public pension funds. Not
since the campaign to make institutions divest from companies
doing business in apartheid South Africa a
three-decade-long effort, which the fossil-fuel-free movement
looks to as a model has one issue ignited such a
firestorm. To date, most institutions of any size have resisted
calls to divest, but the movement is challenging these
organizations to look seriously at how they allocate their
assets and to reconsider some of their most closely held
beliefs. For the student and environmental activists,
divestiture has a political objective: to get lawmakers in
Washington to put policies in place that will force fossil-fuel
companies to change their behavior.