October 22, 2014

By Dr. Bob Gould, SF Bay Area PSR President

On September 17, the UC Regents held a vote on whether to divest from fossil fuels at the UCSF Mission Bay campus. I was invited by Fossil Free UC to speak during the public comment period against a recommendation made by the UC task force. The recommendation was to increase investments in sustainable fuels, something we support, while maintaining much more significant investments in fossil fuels, which commits the UC system to the practices that peril our planet. I attended along with approximately 40 students from Fossil Free UC and want to salute them for their unique and powerful testimony. Some even called out individual UC Regents for having undisclosed meetings with representatives of fossil fuel industries, underscoring a lack of transparency around corporate influence underlying the final decision of the Task Force regarding divestment.

In my testimony–which was limited to one minute–I welcomed the decision to increase investments in alternative fuels, but, as a UCSF professor taking our institution’s expressed commitment to global health seriously, focused on the egregious recommendation of the UC task force to continue devoting substantial parts of its portfolio to fossil fuels, putting present and future generations at risk. In these remarks I cited Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization who, the day before in an op-ed entitled “Public Health in Shambles,” called upon the world community to act quickly to preserve human civilization. As Dr Chan eloquently put it: “The evidence is there, and it is compelling. Here is my strong view: climate change, and all of its dire consequences for health, should be at center-stage, right now, whenever talk turns to the future of human civilizations.”

Unfortunately, the UC Regents ignored the significant health issues raised by all in the truncated time permitted for our dissent, and voted the next day to support the task force recommendation. But we think that the institutional divestment movement, showing its incipient strength in movements across the nation, has unique potential to unite health professional faculty and students who care deeply about stopping global warming, and who believe the institutions we work with should elevate that commitment over “business as usual.” We at SF Bay Area PSR will seek to elevate our profile in this movement, which we believe shows such great promise to redirect our resources to build a sustainable energy-based economy that promotes global health at its core.