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One of the World's Largest Universities Divests From Coal and Tar Sands

Energy

Yielding to pressure from campaigners across the state who spent years pushing the University of California (UC) to divest its holdings from fossil fuels, the university system’s chief investment officer announced yesterday that the $91 billion fund would begin by pulling all direct investments out of coal and tar sands mining companies. Those investments, totaling $200 million, have already been removed.

“This is a hard-fought victory for students and our allies from across California who have been demanding that UC truly live up to its big talk on climate change,” added Jake Soiffer, an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley and leader with Fossil Free UC.

The announcement came just days after the California State Legislature voted to force the two largest pension funds in the U.S.—the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System—to pull their combined $500 billion fund out of coal companies as well.

Divestment activists welcomed the UC decision as an important first step resulting from years of campaign work by students and advocates, but pledged to keep working until administrators make a commitment to divest from all fossil fuels.

“This is a major milestone for the divestment campaign that should help unleash a wave of new commitments,” said 350.org Executive Director May Boeve. “The UC's helped lead the effort to divest from apartheid-era South Africa, so we’re glad to see them beginning to divest from fossil fuels as well. The next step is to finish what they’ve begun and pull money out of harmful oil and gas companies too. Yesterday’s news that Big Oil successfully gutted a key part of California’s new climate bill is a powerful reminder that taking on coal and tar sands isn't enough. We need our institutions to divest from Big Oil and gas as well to have any chance of breaking their political power and solving the climate crisis. Students and campaigners know that and they won't rest until the UC's fully divest from fossil fuels.”

The University of California is one of the largest university systems in the world, overseeing 10 campuses across the state. Its Board of Regents manages a system-wide fund of approximately $91 billion. By comparison, Harvard University's endowment stands at $33 billion.

“This is a big deal and an important first step that takes $200 million away from companies like Peabody—but we need our schools to take a stance against Exxon and Shell too. They're every bit as responsible for the climate crisis,” said Alden Phinney, a UC Santa Cruz student and Fossil Free UC activist.

The move is sure to create momentum for the “Divest for Paris” initiative, an effort to encourage individuals and institutions to divest ahead of this December’s UN Climate Talks. The week of September 21, 350.org and Divest-Invest will be making a major announcement in New York City, releasing the latest tally of total divestment commitments from around the world.

At a meeting of the University of California Board of Regents' Committee on Investments yesterday afternoon, Chief Investment Officer Jagdeep Singh Bachhner said:

“So for us, this is not just about here’s a set of beliefs and a set of values, we are going to be live & transparent about it on our website, we’ve gone one step further as part of our house keeping and managing risks over the course of the year and selling our direct holdings, to reiterate, in coal mining companies, oil sands focused companies..."

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.

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