A group called Fossil Free UC wants regents to divest the University of California's endowment fund of all fossil fuel holdings. "As one of the leading public institutions in the world, we have the privilege and the responsibility to take action where we can influence change," Fossil Free UC explains on its website.
This is the global-warming movement at its most honest. Its goal is not change, which requires sacrifice in a plugged-in age; its goal is to "influence change" -- to wit, wag a finger at others and demand they do something symbolic and politically correct.
What better target than academics? When accused of not being sufficiently liberal, their reflex is to apologize and submit. Thus, it is refreshing that UC President Janet Napolitano told the Daily Bruin, "Using divestment as a tool is something that should be done rarely, if at all."
UC divestment helped end apartheid in South Africa. In 2006, I supported calls for UC to dump holdings in Sudan to end the slaughter in Darfur by isolating those responsible for human rights atrocities.
But there is no way to isolate oil and gas. Every Californian uses energy -- to get to work, to work, to communicate and to recreate. Deny UC the ability to invest in fossil fuels and it won't put a dent in energy use or investment.
That's why Harvard University said no. Harvard President Drew Faust explained, "I ... find a troubling inconsistency in the notion that, as an investor, we should boycott a whole class of companies at the same time that, as individuals and as a community, we are extensively relying on those companies' products and services for so much of what we do every day."
"If you start riding a bike and I start riding a bike, that's not going to have any impact on climate change," Fossil Free UC leader Ophir Bruck told me.
And: "We're not out to isolate the industry in the sense that we're trying to impact their share value or even reduce their capital. They're too big to do that. The point of the campaign is ultimately to stigmatize the industry." In other words, it's all politics.
Like Bruck, local hedge fund billionaire and vocal Keystone XL pipeline opponent Tom Steyer frames divestment as a "moral issue." Steyer pushed for divestment at Stanford University, where he is a trustee, even though he made his fortune investing in, among other industries, the energy sector.