The California State Teachers’ Retirement System has $6 billion worth of investments in fossil fuels and Samohi’s Team Marine wants every dollar divested.
After making a compelling presentation to the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association, the student environmental group succeeded in getting their divestment resolution passed with a unanimous vote.
SMMCTA now joins a coalition of 10 other teachers’ unions demanding CalSTRS divest in a movement organized by environmental organization Fossil Free California. The students are proud to contribute a small yet significant step towards achieving divestment and they don’t plan on stopping here.
“As it was passed unanimously we were really happy. It means that everyone saw what we saw and was listening to what we had to say which was really empowering,” said Daniel Thurmond, Team Marine member. “It gave me and the other students a lot more inspiration to keep moving forward on this project to bigger and broader audiences.”
The team strives to bring the divestment resolution initiative to other school environmental groups and their respective teachers’ unions. They also seek to make their case to former Samohi teacher and SMMCTA president Harry Keiley who currently serves as the Vice Chair of CalSTRS Investment Committee.
“Divestment is so important because it interweaves economic, social, environmental and even political spectrums of this issue. It’s a movement that inspires others, so say CalSTRS divests and other investors corporations may look at it and do the same,” said Thurmond. “It’s also very effective because it’s taking away sponsorship from those who aren’t doing their part racially, socially, and who are exploiting communities.”
In their presentation to SMMCTA, Team Marine drew attention to how many of the corporations in CalSTRS’ fossil fuel portfolio have disregarded and discriminated against vulnerable communities. For example, CalSTRS is invested in Phillips66, an energy company that advocated for installing the Dakota Access Pipeline through Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
CalSTRS is also invested in Chevron and Exxon who own the Torrance and El Segundo refineries. Many of their refineries are located in low income communities who suffer disproportionate negative health impacts including increased respiratory illnesses, birth defects, and water contamination.
“What they are doing is exploiting communities who can’t really speak up for themselves and these people have no political power in regards to these corporations,” said Thurmond. “CalSTRS along with these fossil fuel companies are continuing a narrative that is against everything that our essential human rights are for.”
While members are aware of the scope of the climate crisis, Team Marine believes divestment is a powerful tool to address it, considering that a mere 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of global emissions. The students are motivated by a deep love of their local environment and desire to preserve it for many years to come.
“What makes me passionate about this project and environmentalism in general is that we are ultimately guaranteeing a safe and livable future for future generations,” said Isabel Homberg Reissmeier, Team Marine Member. “I think it’s that big picture that I always look up to—preserving our beautiful landscape and protecting people.”