Q: Doesn’t the University already have a plan for zero carbon?

A: The UC has a ‘carbon neutrality plan,’ which is different from genuine decarbonization. Most of the carbon neutrality plan relies on ‘offset’ schemes, under which we pay people in low-income countries to plant trees or use lower-emissions technologies (such as cookstoves) so that we can continue to emit hundreds of thousands of tons of CO2 and methane. These schemes are well known to be ineffective, not to mention morally dubious [1]. As for emissions from cars and aviation, the University has put off dealing with these until 2050, two decades too late according to the 2018 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (which specified 45% emissions reductions by 2030). Carbon neutrality is not zero carbon!

Q: Isn’t it totally unrealistic to expect the UC to decarbonize its operations?

A: If Stanford University can do it, so can we.

Q: Isn’t the University of California a world leader on climate change?

A: Sometimes being a leader early on means that you fall back when the rest of the world catches up. The UC’s carbon neutrality goals were perhaps ambitious in 2013. But things have changed since then. Global warming is accelerating at a much faster rate than scientists predicted, while solar and wind energy have become much more affordable. It’s also not clear that UC would even meet the modest goals it set itself for 2025 (and see above for problems with the carbon neutrality concept). To lead the way, the UC needs to update its plan and make the campuses accountable for the implementation of genuine emissions reductions.  

Q: Hasn’t the University already divested from fossil fuels?

A: After a multi-year campaign for a Fossil Free UC, in 2019, the University said that it would divest from the oil and gas sector if and when it seemed to be wise from a financial standpoint. In 2020, the Chief Investment Officer said that the portfolio was fossil free, but went on to say that as far as he was concerned, oil and gas stocks represented only ‘a financial risk or a financial opportunity.’ This means the university can, and surely will, buy back fossil fuel investments any time they are financially attractive. Our demand is for permanent divestment, and transparency, in the form of a yearly audit.

Q: What does “Fossil Free Finance” mean?

A: This is a phase we use to cover a set of actions we want the UC to take on Finance. This includes (1) ridding its investments (the endowment and pension) of fossil fuel stocks (our campaign here is mostly a win, but we are waiting on full transparency), (2) changing its banking practices, so that it does not use banks that finance the fossil fuel industry, (3) changing the insurers it uses for buildings and projects, so it does not use insurers that finance the fossil fuel industry. We also want to help raise consciousness of all UC members about personal UC retirement investments (so they have a genuine place to put those that is mostly or entirely fossil free), and so that they also shift their personal bank accounts away from the worst-offending banks.

[1] that example is tailored towards offsets for aviation, but the issues are the same for other offsets, such as those UC aims to buy.