Sustainability

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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Interbeing and the Rhizosphere: An Address to the White Heron Sangha

Monday, January 31st, 2022
Interbeing and the rhizosphere

Exchange with Richard Powers

Friday, February 28th, 2020

From: “Powers, Richard S” <rpowers@illinois.edu>

Subject: RE: ATTN: Richard Powers

Date: February 28, 2020 at 8:52:00 AM PST

To: “Steven R. Marx” <smarx@calpoly.edu>

Dear Steven Marx,

What pleasure it was to get your good and thoughtful letter.  Your words were very satisfying to hear, and I was delighted to hear of the connections between your personal journey and the journey I made while writing The Overstory.  It also moved me to learn of Eagle Waltz, whose productive response to a challenging situation would have made a wonderful addition to my fictional version of that challenge.  I look forward someday to hiking that trail he mapped and built.  Thanks for telling me about it, and for taking the time to write me with your generous words.

With gratitude,

Richard Powers

From: Steven R. Marx
Sent: Wednesday, February 26, 2020 3:31 PM
To: english@illinois.edu; Powers, Richard S
Subject: ATTN: Richard Powers

Dear Richard Powers

I’ve been meaning to write to you since last September when I finished reading The Overstory.  I kept putting it off until now because I felt shy of requesting the attention of an author I so admired. The fact that the book affected me so deeply and personally was outweighed by reluctance to add to what must be a heavy load of fan mail from others in whom it’s created a need to share some of their stories.  But after all this time, and as I ready to tackle The Echo Maker, the resistance has crumbled.

I learned about The Overstory from Eagle Waltz, an old friend from back-to-the-land hippy days near the end of the road in Lund, British Columbia, where I moved from New York with my wife Jan in 1970, lived in the woods for nine years, and where we return annually with our children and grandchildren. Eagle was another exile at the time, from Germany, who was entranced by the wilderness and horrified, like all of of us, by the systematic destruction of old growth forests whose grave markers we lived among in the form of gargantuan springboard-nicked stumps.  Rather than merely learning to live with that grief, Eagle decided to try to save the few grand specimens still scattered through endless slash and second or third growth plantations by mapping and building a 150 mile-long hiking trail  connecting the old sages. He calculated that opening the back country to locals and eventually tourists would produce support for his lifelong efforts to negotiate with logging companies and the government to spare the last remnant, which it has done.

The book’s connection with Eagle and its portrayal of the pain of outsiders who moved to the woods and ended up in industrial logging zones created one bond.  But then there was Stanford/Palo Alto/East Palo Alto.  I had moved there first in 1963 to go graduate school in English in order to avoid the draft after being kicked out of the Peace Corps for being “too intellectual” and having “the wrong attitude toward authority.” Jan and I met at a poetry seminar In the Free University of Palo Alto, got into lots of trouble and fun as student activists, married in the backyard of a cottage we rented in EPA, moved to NYC  where I taught at Columbia for three years and then emigrated to Canada. Nine years later we returned to Palo Alto so I could complete the dissertation on pastoral ideals and the life cycle I’d started fourteen years earlier. My interest in trees was rekindled when, unable to secure decent academic employment, I became  a part-time arborist.  A couple of years later upon yet another return to Stanford as lecturer I also worked on the tree crew and wrote a piece for the Stanford Magazine about the combination. After four years, and having secured  a tenure track job at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, I gave a  capstone talk for “Literature and  the  Arts in Western Culture” entitled “Everythihg’s Dead but the Tree.”

Its clear from descriptions of other books of yours I plan to read that trees are but one region of your exploration, and I look forward to discovering some of the others. But the striking intersections between the incidents, places and passions so compellingly narrrated in this novel and episodes in my life make me feel uniquely part of The Overstory.

Gratefully,

Steven Marx

Year-End Progress Report on City Farm San Luis Obispo

Sunday, January 21st, 2018

For the last four years the core mission of our non-profit has been to fulfill the terms of our 20-year lease with the City of San Luis Obispo: to manage the 15 acres of arable land at the Calle Joaquin Agricultural Reserve so as to 1) facilitate production of crops by small commercial organic farmers and 2) to provide educational programs about local agriculture to students and the general public.

During 2017 the City Farm School Project has continued for the fourth year to provide innovative instruction for academic credit to students in the “Farm” class at Pacific Beach Continuation High School with the enthusiastic support of students, teachers and administration.  Throughout the year and during summer school, students walk to the farm with their instructors from their nearby campus twice a week to engage in hands-on learning about soil, irrigation, planting, cultivating, harvesting, cooking and eating the food they grow. (more…)