Politics

Cal Poly Foundation, Divest from Fossil Fuels

Monday, May 9th, 2022

Comments to Foundation Board of Directors and Finance Committee, May 7 2022

Seven reasons in three allotted minutes to divest Cal Poly Foundation from Fossil Fuel Investments

1.     To respond to the well-informed, respectful and impassioned student testimony at previous meetings urging you to act on this.  Clearly, today’s students and their children will be more impacted by the Climate Crisis than our generation.  Providing financial support to Fossil Fuel companies that continue to play a significant role in worsening that Crisis is neglecting the University’s commitment to the welfare of its present and future students.

2.     To Comply with the Foundation’s Policy Statement 401 adopted statement January 2007, updated November 2018: “the Cal Poly Foundation will endeavor to consider all relevant facts and circumstances in making investment decisions, including the risks and opportunities of environmental, social and corporate governance features.” https://content-calpoly-edu.s3.amazonaws.com/foundation/1/images/CPF%20Policy%20401%20Social%20Responsible%20Investing%20%28approved%2011.10.18%29.pdf):  

3.     To bring Foundation Investment policy in line with CSU’s 2021 policy, along with the University of California’s and Harvard’s.

4.     To Strengthen Cal Poly’s effort to attain STARS Platinum Status by adding 4 points of credit to Planning and Administration Sustainability evaluation at virtually no cost.  (https://reports.aashe.org/institutions/california-polytechnic-state-university-ca/report/2019-09-19/).

5.     To Acknowledg the effort of Cal Poly employees to get their pension fund, PERS, to divest from Fossil Fuels. This endeavor has recently moved forward with State Senate Bill SB1173 requiring such divestment. It passed out of the Judiciary Committee on April 19 and is now under consideration by the Appropriations committee.

6.     To consider that in the long-term, Fossil Fuel Investments lack fiduciary responsibility since “the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves must inevitably be left in the ground in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. This means that 90% of coal, 60% of gas, and 60% of oil proven reserves cannot be extracted, and therefore cannot provide returns for fossil fuel investors.” https://www.eenews.net/articles/abandoning-60-of-global-oil-might-limit-warming-to-1-5-c/ Internationally, a growing number of successful lawsuits, many of them brought by young people, are requiring governments and corporations to reduce carbon emissions and hence are reducing the monetary value of reserves and the entities which own them. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02424-7

7.     To recognize that Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is largely financed by its Fossil Fuel Assets. Investments in those assets worldwide are being cancelled or frozen, heightening the urgency of breaking free from Fossil Fuel Dependence and profiteering.

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To the Cal Poly Foundation Board, February 4 2022

Thank you for this opportunity to once again testify at your February 12 meeting in support of “Divest the CSU of Fossil Fuels” representatives Heath Hooper and Nicholas Trautman’s request that you to adhere to the CSU Policy regarding investment in fossil fuels.

Their arguments in favor of this position were presented to your November 6 meeting and published here: https://www.sanluisobispo.com/opinion/readers-opinion/article255511031.html

As I mentioned in my last communication, I was hoping to hear a reasoned response to their request, and in particular to their specific refutation of arguments supporting the Foundation Board’s reluctance to make its investment policy compatible with that of the University it is dedicated to support.

My hope was disappointed by the report at that meeting, but the issue remains a live one.

 It was mentioned that the Board has not yet taken a definite position on whether they will divest and on how they will respond to the CSU decision.  Does that mean a position will be presented and voted upon at the upcoming meeting?  If not, is any reason provided for further delay?

 It was mentioned that the Foundation is required to invest only in mutual funds, not in individual stocks.  But many mutual funds exist that do not include fossil fuel stocks and investments could be shifted to such funds.

 The point was made that such funds might not be as lucrative or secure as those in the present portfolio, but no clear evidence was presented for this questionable claim.

 I’d like to point out that the City of San Luis Obispo, another institution closely related to Cal Poly with equally prudent investment guidelines, divested its holdings in fossil fuels back in 2015: “The City’s Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) Policy restricts from the portfolio issuers who generate revenue from casinos, gambling, racetracks, brewery, wine/spirits, tobacco, electronic cigarette, or tobacco-related products, or who support the direct production or drilling of fossil fuels.”  [https://www.slocity.org/home/showpublisheddocument/31473/637744833530000000]

A recent audit of the outcome of that shift indicates fiscal benefits and reduced risk from doing so.

 This local example is supported by numerous financial industry and academic studies, e.g. “We find that the investment performance of portfolios that exclude fossil fuel production companies does not significantly differ in terms of risk and return from unrestricted portfolios.” [https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14693062.2020.1806020]

 It was mentioned at your last meeting that such assessments are contradicted by other studies.  But no investment strategies have fully predictable outcomes or undisputed support.

 Given the ongoing climate crisis and the role of fossil fuel companies in contributing to it and in hiding that role, the appeal to questionable claims of financial responsibility is strongly outweighed by the consequences of continuing to support them.

 On the other hand, considering that the divestment campaign is being driven by Cal Poly students who have disproportionately more to lose from the climate crisis than those who are now in the position to take such action, one might question the nature of the dedication of such leaders to the students’ welfare and prosperity.

 Respectfully submitted,

 Steven Marx

Professor Emeritus of English, Cal Poly

Recipient:  CSU Systemwide Quality Improvement Award, Quest for the Best Faculty Mentor Award, College of Liberal Arts Scholar of the Year Award, Cal Poly Distinguished Professor Award, Founder, The Cal Poly Land Project

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Central Coast Grown’s Comment on San Luis Ranch’s December 2016 DEIR on Proposed Topsoil Grading

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

I. Introduction

This comment expresses the views of Central Coast Grown(CCG), the non-profit organization selected by the SLO City Council to manage City Farm San Luis Obispo under the terms of 1) a 20-year nominal-fee lease and 2) of the 2011 Master Plan for the Calle Joaquin Agricultural Reserve (www.slocity.org/home/showdocument?id=1916). City Farm SLO is a 20-acre parcel zoned Agricultural Open Space and owned by the City, adjacent to San Luis Ranch

CCG has a strong interest in the development plans for the Agricultural Land belonging to San Luis Ranch for several reasons. As an immediate neighbor, City Farm’s operations are directly impacted by the treatment of soil and water resources on the adjoining property, in particular by any grading activities affecting land contours and soil conditions.  As custodian of City Farm and a continuous onsite presence, CCG has a responsibility to uphold the intentions and terms of the Calle Joaquin Agricultural Reserve under which it operates and to which the agricultural land of San Luis Ranch will be subject, if and when it is annexed into the City. (more…)

Dharma and Darwin

Saturday, November 5th, 2016

Introduction

My talk today follows in the tracks of fellow sangha members who’ve given us presentations on the convergence of scientific inquiry and the insights of traditional Buddhist precepts in the area of neurobiology and brain science. I want to explore the ways the theory of evolution that has provided a framework for all biological research during the last 150 years illuminates and is illuminated by my experience of meditation and my rudimentary understanding of Buddhist doctrine. (more…)

Mariotte Hotel Development (sequel 1)

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

Note: See earlier posting for backstory

Testimony at Architectural Review Commission at hearing October 5 2015

My name is Steven Marx. I live in San Luis Obispo and am a retired Cal Poly Professor. I testify today as the President of the Board of the Non-profit, Central Coast Grown, which holds a 20-year lease with the City of San Luis Obispo for the City Farm Property to implement the General Plan requirement to preserve “the signature agricultural landscape at the southern entrance to the City.” By the terms of that lease we are tasked with assuring that its nineteen acres are used for organic production of locally marketed crops by small local farmers and with creating educational programs about sustainable agriculture for schools and the general public. In our first year and half of operation, we have done that, staffed by one paid employee and volunteers and funded by small produce sales, grants, and contributions.

Unfortunately the matter at hand today has proceeded beyond the preliminary stages without our input, as a result of a failure of notification. It is surprising that nobody at the City who received notification long ago forwarded it to CCG or to its other neighbor, San Luis Ranch, and it’s also surprising that none of the earlier staff reports to the ARC gave adequate consideration to the larger issues stated in your Community Design Guidelines: “Scenic views and natural features around the site, and a site’s location should be considered early in project design.” (more…)