What do you talk about when you talk about California? Sun, beaches, Hollywood… and divestment, right?

Well, you should. And that’s why we are excited to host our upcoming California Divestment Forum at UC Berkeley’s David Brower Center on Wednesday, January 22. Our forum is only the latest milestone in California’s historic leadership in divestment as a tactic to help make the world a better, safer place for all.

In 1972, Representative Ron Dellums of California was the first to introduce legislation in the US Congress advocating for divestment from South Africa’s Apartheid regime. And in 1986, partially in response to pressure from campus movements, California Governor Deukmejian signed a bill requiring state pension funds and the University of California to divest $12 billion in funds associated with businesses in South Africa. The University of California alone divested $3 billion from South Africa, the largest single divestment during the effort. And so it was an incredible day when in 1990 Nelson Mandela concluded his first tour of the United States in Oakland, applauding the Bay Area’s early adoption of the divestment movement and thanking Californians for their support.

California also helped lead the divestment effort from tobacco companies, citing the negative public health and safety impacts of their business plan. In 2009, the $154 billion California State Teachers’ Retirement System divested from the tobacco industry. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System also divested from the tobacco industry in the ‘00s. In 2006, California lawmakers passed a bill calling on CalSTRS and CalPERS to divest from Sudan, citing the mass genocide underway in that country. And in 2013 CalSTRS divested from certain firearm interests, citing similar concerns about public health and safety.

This all sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Our effort to divest from fossil fuels is building directly on the successes of these past campaigns. California for decades has been a global leader in diverse movements to change the world by refusing to profit from industries and countries whose actions are at odds with a healthy, equitable planet. That’s why we are excited to see California so engaged in fossil fuel divestment. We are inspired by the broad and deep coalition in California to call on religious institutions, governments and other organizations to stop profiting from those who are making climate change worse.

The work is only just beginning. In 2013, we made significant progress in divesting funds both on and off campus, earning eight commitments to divest across the state – San Francisco, San Francisco State University Foundation, Richmond, Peralta Community Colleges, Foothill-De Anza Community Colleges, Berkeley, Santa Clara Valley Water District and Santa Monica.

Incredible progress was also made in September 2013 with the Board of Directors of the $260 billion California Public Employee Retirement System, the largest public pension fund in the United States, voting to include references to climate change in its newly adopted list of investment beliefs. This small but significant change in wording will pave the way for CalPERS to analyze and quantify the risks to its portfolio of climate change in general and of fossil-fuel investment in particular. The significance of a fund the size of CalPERS taking this step cannot be overstated.

Will you join the movement to divest from fossil fuel companies? Sign up to receive updates on global efforts and check out our website for information on how you can get engaged to help save the planet.