This is a letter to the editor from Youth vs. Apocalypse (YVA), a group of young climate justice activists. Views expressed are not necessarily those of CTA.
CalSTRS wants teachers to fear that divestment will hurt their pensions. Yet numerous studies by major investment experts show that funds are likely to be “stronger” when they exclude oil, gas, and coal. That’s why pension funds from the UC system to the state of NY to the Church of England no longer invest in fossil fuels.
The science is crystal clear: the degree to which fossil fuel companies continue to hold wealth and power puts at risk our health and the planet’s future. Teachers shouldn’t have to bet their money against their own future; that’s why local unions representing 150,000 teachers have passed resolutions calling for fossil fuel divestment.
The “engagement” strategy is often brought up as a counterargument to divestment. This is the idea that if CalSTRS remains invested in fossil fuel companies they will be able to steer towards clean energy. However, the fossil fuel industry has lied to the public for 50 years about the existence of climate change, and continuously sacrificed the health of frontline communities, workers, and the whole planet. CalSTRS can’t convince a fossil fuel company to stop being a fossil fuel company in the next five years. Money talks: CalSTRS is saying they support Chevron and Exxon.
High-paid executives at CalSTRS are willing to let working-class people suffer while waiting on the fossil fuel industry to innovate a solution that will maintain the status quo. Their elitism blinds them to the truth: these industries have had 50 years to prevent climate destruction. But they haven’t. Instead, the fossil fuel industry continues to seek profit at our expense, in particular threatening youth and BIPOC communities. California public school teachers believe in the youth and the working people of California. From the divestment that helped free South Africans from apartheid to the United Farm Workers grape boycott, when people say enough is enough and put their money where their money is, things change.
Investing in fossil fuels directly fuels the climate crisis. The climate crisis is not a problem of the future, it is an emergency of the present. According to the NAACP, the biggest indicator of where fossil fuel infrastructure and toxic waste facilities are placed is race. Due to environmental racism, Black and brown communities have disproportionately higher rates of exposure to toxic pollutants emitted from factories, urban fracking sites, drilling sites, etc. Due to the higher amount of toxic air quality, people of color disproportionately suffer higher rates of respiratory and cardiovascular health issues including but not limited to asthma and cancer. “In Oakland, Black residents account for over half of the asthma-related emergency room visits by children under five years old, even though they make up only about 20% of the city’s population under five, according to a 2018 report by the Alameda County Public Health Department.” (Lustig 2022)
The climate crisis is taking years off of the lives of people of color. Access to clean air and water is a human right that fossil fuels companies are actively violating. The United States is not the only country where people of color disproportionately suffer from the climate crisis. In African countries, fossil fuel corporations have been tied to terrorism that has displaced many communities, leaving the areas empty to construct oil pipelines. Farmers in India starve as their crops are destroyed. The climate crisis is the biggest threat to humanity and the Earth. Now is the time to divest from climate destruction and environmental racism and stand with what is right.