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By Youth vs. Apocalypse

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.


The Discussion 5 comments Post a Comment

  1. Diana Curiel says...

    Thank you YvA for your powerful comments and analysis. We teachers are inspired by your passion and engagement. We need to support youth not only in the classroom, but with our own engagement. How can we tolerate our pension funds being invested in an industry which has created a climate disaster by willfully propagating misinformation, and engaging in racist environmental destruction? Our pension will be healthier if we divest from this failing and corrupt industry. Our planet, our future, and our national security will be more secure if we invest in sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels.

  2. Gabriela Mitchell says...

    I too would like to congratulate YvA for your leadership in addressing the climate crisis. Communities of color consistently are impacted the most by the climate crisis. YvA is calling on educators while embracing a spirit of reconciliation. To address divestment from fossil fuels with an equity lens. Overtime educators stand to be impacted twofold by the climate crisis. The climate crisis has consistently been knocking at our door step. Coupled with potential exponential retirement account set backs. YvA proposed a pivot that could impact future generations globally. That includes sound environmental investments by CalSTRS. Rather, leaving behind a legacy that consistently builds upon thoughtful acts of kindness.

  3. Sunny Galbraith says...

    I am so appreciative of the efforts of these brave youth activists. As a public school teacher and CTA member, I am horrified that my retirement is divested in the companies most responsible for the climate crisis. It is unconscionable betrayal of the young people we have devoted our lives to serve. CalSTRS must divest from all fossil fuel holdings now.

  4. Park Guthrie says...

    Thank you, YvA for your important leadership! CalSTRS has been exaggerating the financial risks of fossil fuel divestment for years. Based on an incorrect understanding of divestment due to years of bias from CalSTRS, the CTA opposed the 2017 Dakota Access Pipeline divestment bill, claiming it could cost $8 billion. (Even CalSTRS only estimated that it might costs $28.7 or as little as $800,000). It turns out NOT divesting from DAPL companies has likely cost us $500 million. (Please ask the Retirement Committee to ask CalSTRS to run the numbers).

    Let’s not be manipulated by CalSTRS any more. Let’s join fellow educators across California in the CFT, California Faculty Association (CSU’s), Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, and many CTA locals; let’s use our collective power to work for climate justice, CTA. I am so grateful these young people are calling us into the fight for climate justice.

    • Park Guthrie says...

      I meant to say: *even CalSTRS estimated it might cost between $28.7 million to as little as $800,000*

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