Nicole Herhusky | Mustang News

Cal Poly Corporation will continue to invest in fossil fuels, despite momentum from a California State University (CSU) decision on Oct. 6 to stop its own further investment.

Former CSU Chancellor Joseph I. Castro announced last year that the CSU system would no longer make any future investments in fossil fuels.

Castro has since resigned, but according to CSU public affairs manager Hazel Kelly, this will not affect the previous decision.

“Change in leadership does not impact the CSU’s decision to divest in fossil fuels,” Kelly told Mustang News. “The CSU’s long-standing commitment to sustainability, along with its obligation to manage assets responsibly as a steward of public funds, were the two key drivers in the decision to no longer pursue future investments in fossil fuels.”

Cal Poly Corporation spokesperson Aaron Lambert confirmed that Cal Poly Corporation currently invests $1.24 million in fossil fuels and the Cal Poly Foundation invests $5.6 million in the ‘energy sector,’ which includes both fossil fuels and renewable energy.

However, he said that the Corporation does not make direct investments into fossil fuels.

“Approximately 1 percent of the Corporation’s invested interests are indirectly invested in fossil fuels via mutual fund holdings,“ Lambert said.

Cal Poly spokesperson Matt Lazier said that Cal Poly’s foundation board and investment committee “are focused on assisting in raising money and meeting the wishes and agreements of our donors — and they are fiduciary in the sense of preserving our donors’ gifts in order to support programs into the future.”

According to Lazier, 2.1% of the overall value of the foundation’s endowment was in the energy sector.

“We do not see merit in changing the current portfolio,” Lazier told Mustang News.

Community members advocate for fossil fuel divestment

According to NASA, fossil fuel burning has been a primary cause of global warming by increasing greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, in turn, trapping in heat.

Months after graduating with a degree in physics and an environmental studies minor in the winter of 2020, Cal Poly alumna Lisa Swartz formed “Divest the CSU,” a CSU-wide, student-led coalition calling for all CSU campuses to divest its endowments, corporations and other university-affiliated accounts from fossil fuels. The group had hoped to make the CSU’s decision influence Cal Poly’s investments.

Civil and environmental engineering professor Derek Manheim previously told Mustang News that there remains a lack of accountability in the fossil fuel industry. 

Environmental externalities — such as hydraulic fracking or gas emission leaks from abandoned wells—are not quantified nor factored into the total cost of its environmental impact, he said. 

Manheim said as California begins to transition to renewable energy resources, Cal Poly should follow suit and be a leader, looking locally and statewide.

In May 2020, the UC system fully divested from fossil fuels and has invested over $1 billion in clean energy projects. In February, the University of Southern California froze new investments in fossil fuels and plans to sell current fossil fuel investments over the next several years. 

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