Program by Brett Fleishman, Coordinated by Deirdre Smith, Photos by Maurico Castillo 

final-invite copy (1)The California Divestment Forum was a day long empirical examination into the prudence of fossil fuel divestment, the responsibility for institutions to ‘reinvest’ in adaptation and mitigation, and  the importance of integrating climate change into investment risk analysis.

The day started out with a tone-setting keynote address from South Africa Apartheid scholar Bob Massie, who provided historical context to divestment as a political tool.  We then got a more dynamic look at the companies in question, the top 200 carbon reserve holding companies, from Sustainalyitics, who showed us that disclosure, labor practices and corruption are other vital issues to consider when selecting your investments.

IMG_0938 Next, a series of panels discussed the calculated low risk when excluding fossil fuel companies from your portfolio, how shareholder engagement has been an ineffective tool over the last three decades in carbon mitigation, and how firms are using sustainable optimization and showing competitive returns.


Representatives from multibillion dollar funds — CalPERS (the largest pension fund in the nation), the California State Teachers Retirement System, The San Francisco Employee Retirement System, Stanford Endowment, and more — gathered to hear these experts and examine their concerns.

Some of the key takeaways from the day:

  • Bob Massie’s comments that it is well within your fiduciary duty to divest from fossil fuels and in fact it may be your responsibility to do so.

  • Heather Lang’s data slides showing that, of the top 200 fossil fuel companies, 70 percent of them show no evidence of ‘clean-tech’ revenues and in the remaining 30 percent there is only vague disclosure about clean-tech generating revenues.

  • Patrick Geddes from Aperio Group reminded us that there has been no academic or empirical paper responding to the 5 studies showing low risk associated with fossil fuel divestment. Patrick said, “where is the other side?”

And finally, the robust discussion on reinvestment in the afternoon was an inspiring experience for all of the participants — offering a unique opportunity for decision makers to address their barriers to divesting with financial experts.

If you would like more resources on the financial side of divestment or would like to be involved in upcoming forums contact [email protected].

Meanwhile, check out Bob Massie’s Keynote:

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