The faculty legislature at UC Santa Barbara has taken what it hopes will be a pointed step toward influencing system-wide change by passing a resolution in favor of eliminating university investment in fossil-fuel companies.

UCSB’s Academic Senate became the first faculty organization in the 10-campus University of California system to advocate for putting an end to investing millions of dollars in fossil fuel and oil companies last week, with a vote of 11 in favor, seven against and three abstentions.

Faculty are attempting to take the lead in what so far has been mostly a student-pushed change on the statewide and national levels, commonly referred to as the “Fossil Free” campaign.

The eco-minded movement, which is active on more than 350 campuses nationwide, is a response to what it says are increasing threats of climate change and social exploitation as consequences of dependency on a fossil-fuel economy.

UCSB Associated Students was the first in the UC system — along with UC Berkeley — to pass a resolution in favor of divestment back in February after working on the issue since last fall.

Students at five other universities have passed similar resolutions.

In a nutshell, faculty and students are asking the UC system to freeze all new investments in the 200 publicly traded fossil-fuel companies with the largest carbon reserves, while agreeing to develop a plan to remove all investments in these companies over the next five years.

“It is basically immoral for us, as university intellectual institutions, to be pushing forward climate and sustainability” when we invest in oil companies, said Emily Williams, a fourth-year student environmental studies major who has coordinated the local movement. “Our goal is not to get UCSB as a campus to divest. What we want to go after is the UC Regents. The political climate is such that we can’t get any sort of legislation passed. The point of it is to hurt the industry’s reputation.”

UCSB sociology professor John Foran called the faculty action the “very first hurdle in a long line of hurdles” toward effecting change, which he guessed would take until December 2014 or so. He estimated that $200 million of the UC system’s $6 billion endowment is invested in fossil fuels.

Foran, who teaches on climate change and climate justice movements, said more UC system faculty must get involved for the issue to come before the regents for any official approval.

“The way the faculty can do that is to request of the regents,” he told Noozhawk.

In the past, the regents have moved to divest from corporations involved with apartheid South Africa and, more recently, those involved in the sale/distribution of firearms, said Dianne Klein, a regents spokeswoman.

“Investment strategy is based on returns and what’s best for the university, and what’s best for students,” Klein said. “This is a big, complicated area.”

She said “probably a lot of dots” would have to be connected for the regents to hear a motion, especially since some votes — like the one at UCSB — are not cast by all faculty.

So far, only a handful of private, liberal-arts colleges have taken action to divest.

Regardless of the outcome, Foran said the faculty vote has sparked discussion and awareness on a campus that is typically lauded for “green” achievements.

“We want it to be debated,” he said, noting a need to sell and reinvest funds in clean energy. “We want to have a general discussion about sustainability. This is an issue that affects all humanity and generations to come.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.