Teaching

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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Nancy Lucas 1942-2021

Sunday, March 27th, 2022

On Sunday attended a memorial service at the Sangha for Nancy Lucas, my age. Retired before me, about 2006.  Lost contact as part of my withdrawal from English department but heard that seven years ago she was moved by her two sons out of SLO to an Alzheimer facility where the older one lives in Healdsburg.  They organized the memorial at White Heron Sangha in Avila because she was an early member who left before I first got there.  The event was announced through the Sangha email list, but not, it seems, through the English Department. I had the impression a number of those folks, who were closer to her than I, had been personally invited, but many others were absent.

This is the third memorial for Sangha members I’ve been to: Barbara Scott, Melody Demerit, the two others.  Women I had special connections with—Barbara my therapist in 1992 and Melody my copy editor in 1998 and 2005.  Those connections were mixed with admiration: Barbara for bravery in dealing with the unimaginable pain of her rheumatoid arthritis, Melody for her steadfastness in serving on the Morro Bay City Council. And affection: Barbara for her ebullience, Melody for her bluff irreverence.

With Nancy it was different.  The most prominent thing about her was a spectacular beauty and grace.  Her head, with its great green eyes and bright red hair, seemed to float with a buoyancy that suspended the rest of her tall body. Her voice, with its slight hint of Texas drawl, seemed to sing recitative rather than talk.  And as so many of the speakers remarked, she fully shared that celebrity presence with everyone who basked in it.  An illustration in that place of a Buddhist aspiration to be fully there for other people.

And a poignant irony that someone so present lived out her life growing steadily more absent. So absent that the two adored and adoring sons who took her in care remembered, in lengthy detail, her rare moments of partially being there in laughter and song.

A picture of her at our house October 1991 during an English Faculty play reading of Sheridan’s The School for Scandal together with Mike Wenzl (1939-2017)

 

Loss

Monday, February 8th, 2021

 

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…)