What was most significant about the year 2012? According to Cameron Fenton, National Director of theCanadian Youth Climate Coalition (CYCC), 2012 was marked as the year climate change became a glaring reality.
This reality began with an article penned by climate activist Bill McKibbon that appeared in Rolling Stone last July. “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” prompted a United States-wide tour ending in November 2012, bluntly expressing the numbers we can no longer afford to ignore. McKibbon visited college campuses across the US, urging attendees to “do the math” on the reality of fossil fuel numbers. The next phase of the movement is Go Fossil Free – a call for divestment from companies involved in the extraction of fossil fuels.
The movement quickly spread across the US, with more than 200 schools adopting student-run campaigns, and has also landed here in Canada. The CYCC is calling for students and alumni to urge university administrations to divest their endowments from fossil fuel related companies.
The movement in the US has targeted 200 companies from which to divest, and here in Canada, three big ones have been added to the list: Enbridge, TransCanada and KinderMorgan.
The movement will hopefully bring student’s attention to exactly how university administrations are spending their money. The goal is to motivate students to question their school’s investments. A university endowment is the total value of the institution’s investment portfolio used to fund things like pensions, scholarships and lecture series.
A surprising number of Canadian institutions invest in fossil fuel related companies, and student-driven divestment campaigns are already well underway at several post-secondary schools across the country.
Students at McGill University formed Divest McGill in October 2012. The student-led initiative presented the school’s Board of Governors two petitions with a combined 750 signatures, pressing the school to divest from fossil fuel companies. McGill, which holds a nearly $1 billion endowment (one of the largest in Canada) currently invests approximately $56 million in publicly traded companies involved in fossil fuel extraction.
McGill hasn’t budged on their investing practices yet, but have formed a social responsibility committee which will investigate the issue presented and may recommend a divestment. The university is required to form a committee when presented with 300 signatures contesting an investment. The committee is scheduled to meet March 12th.
Divest McGill continues to collect signatures and campaign to bring student awareness to the university’s investments. Bronwen Tucker, a member of Divest McGill stated in a press release from CYCC, “Divestment is one of many tools that needs to be used in order to raise awareness and shift from our dependency on [fossil fuels].”
McGill is not the only campus with a divestment campaign. Students at the University of New Brunswick created an online petition earlier this month, and according to their website, they will be meeting with the University’s president in March. McMaster students started a divestment petition after an article in the student run newspaper, The Silhouette, profiled three Hamilton residents’ push to have Macleans Magazine include an “ethical investment” ranking in their annual university issue. Students at Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto have also launched campaigns to urge administrations to divest.
Fenton notes that divestment alone is not going to be a final solution to climate change but “by going after the economic power and social license of the industry that is fuelling the climate crisis, we might have a chance to build a more sustainable future.”
Find the tools to start or join a Fossil Free campaign on your school’s campus and learn more about other schools who are already on board at www.gofossilfree.ca.
Alumni are also invited to join: check out the resources page for a sample alumni letter to send your alma mater.