Teens drench themselves in fake oil in climate change protest at California pension fund

·2 min read

Dozens of young people staged a dramatic march from the Capitol to the headquarters of California’s teacher pension fund on Thursday, imploring CalSTRS to withdraw its investments from oil and gas companies.

The children, some drenched in mock oil, participated in a “die-in” at CalSTRS headquarters in West Sacramento, where they said their generation would suffer from the effects of climate change.

“We’re the ones that are vulnerable,” Sophia Jacobs, 12, of Berkeley said.

Their protest marked the latest effort by environmental advocacy groups to press California’s public pension funds to divest from fossil fuel industries.

The California State Teachers’ Retirement System with a $250 billion portfolio and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System with $400 billion in assets generally oppose divesting from legal industries, and each has an environmental sustainability strategy that acknowledges the risks of climate change.

Nonetheless, each fund is facing pressure to do more.

“We know that climate change will affect our portfolio and we have an investment team dedicated to managing climate risk and investing in solutions,” CalSTRS Chief Executive Officer Jack Ehnes said in a written statement. “We partner with other investors to push for companies to reduce their carbon emissions. The board is hearing items today and tomorrow that will keep us on the path to full funding while addressing climate risks, so we can deliver pensions far into the future.”

California state Treasurer Fiona Ma, a member of both pension boards, has called for CalSTRS to divest $6 billion from fossil fuel companies.

Gov. Gavin Newsom in September signed an executive order that called on CalPERS, CalSTRS and the University of California Retirement Plan to work with his office in shifting “investments to companies and industry sectors that have greater growth potential based on their focus of adapting to and mitigating the impacts of climate change, including investments in carbon-neutral, carbon-negative and clean energy technologies.”

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The students outside CalSTRS want the fund to move quickly. They mostly came from Sacramento and the Bay area, with support from a variety of environmental advocacy groups such as Sunrise Movement and Youth vs Apocalypse.

They carried a parade float shaped like an oil tanker down Capitol Mall. Others hoisted a giant skeleton puppet.

Among those attending Thursday’s rally were 14-year-old Elliot Ingle of Berkeley and 12-year-old Amira Lezin of Oakland.

“We really need to be taking action now,” Lezin said.

Ingle said that climate change will primarily affect young people, while the people currently in charge of CalSTRS and oil companies “will be dead by then.”

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