As a Cal alumna, I’ve been rooting for my alma mater to be among the first universities to divest from fossil fuels. Alas, Stanford, SF State and Peralta, along with dozens of other universities, religious institutions and cities, including Berkeley, San Francisco, Richmond and Oakland, have already shown us up, divesting billions from the oil, gas and coal companies that are cooking the planet. Yesterday, I put some skin in the game with a pledge to donate $500 to UC if and only if it agrees to divest by the end of 2016.

Back in 1986, UC wasn’t the first university to divest from South Africa, but student activists eventually shamed the Regents into doing so. Since I’m no longer on campus, I’m not able to participate in student protests on a regular basis, but I can vote with my wallet through the clever Donors for Divestment crowdfunding campaign. This initiative presents the Regents with a tempting carrot–sorely-needed endowment funds that become available when and if the Regents do the right thing.

I hope to see my son attend a UC some day. It’s important to me that the UC system continues to grow and thrive and to fulfill its public service mission. In furtherance of its mission, its fossil fuel portfolio should be re-invested in renewable energy companies that are ushering in a clean energy economy that has little use for extractive industries. Clean energy investments are sound on two levels—they offer competitive yields in a sector that can only grow, and they promote a safer, healthier future for our students.

If Cal really wants to fulfill its public mission right in its own backyard, it can invest in Alameda County’s soon-to-be Community Choice Energy program. This program, which will offer county residents a clean energy alternative to Pacific Gas & Electric, plans to develop huge amounts of local solar and wind power. It will need somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 billion to do so and will be seeking out deep-pocketed investors. Enter Cal.

UC has pledged to become carbon-neutral by 2025. The United States and China have agreed to keep temperatures from rising more than 2°C by 2025. If the US is to meet that target, we must leave 80% of fossil fuels in the ground. And if Cal wants to truly be carbon-neutral within ten years, it shouldn’t be reaping dividends from the biggest carbon emitters on the planet. Instead, it should be reaping dividends from local clean energy projects that stimulate the local economy, create local jobs, and reduce our regional carbon footprint.

73% of the student body at Cal support divestment. The Faculty Association, Graduate Assembly and undergraduate senate have all passed resolutions in favor of divestment. They know that, as one of the leading public institutions in the world, UC’s divestment will be a watershed moment for the climate movement. For better or worse, big Bears have big footprints. Let’s go, Bears!

Berkeleyside welcomes submissions of op-ed articles. We ask that we are given first refusal to publish. Topics should be Berkeley-related, local authors are preferred, and we don’t publish anonymous pieces. Email submissions, as Word documents or embedded in the email, to The recommended length is 500-800 words. Please include your name and a one-line bio that includes full, relevant disclosures. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion.

Erica Etelson graduated from Berkeley Law in 1993. She is chair of the Berkeley Community Choice Energy Working Group.
Erica Etelson graduated from Berkeley Law in 1993. She is chair of the Berkeley Community Choice Energy Working Group.

"*" indicates required fields

See an error that needs correcting? Have a tip, question or suggestion? Drop us a line.