Students advocate for fossil fuel divestment

Student divestment groups at universities across Canada and North America are advocating for their schools to stop investing in fossil fuels.

According to Divest McGill’s website, the basis of students’ thinking is this: when universities invest in coal, oil, gas, and other non-renewable energy companies, they are encouraging our society’s reliance on fossil fuels, and limiting the growth of green energy alternatives.

“Divestment is the opposite of investment–it means getting rid of stocks, bonds, or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous and investing elsewhere instead,” the site reads.

Most university investments are managed through an endowment fund, which invests donors’ money to create a profit without too much risk.

Carleton University’s endowment fund is self-described as being managed like a mutual fund. This fund can have money invested in coal, oil, and gas companies as long as the company is stable and producing a return for the university, according to Carleton’s website.

Before an access to information request was made by McGill’s divestment campaign, the university’s endowment information was not posted for the public. Carleton’s specific endowment fund investments are currently not accessible to the public without a request.

Investments aside, Carleton has various sustainability projects directed at reducing energy usage and carbon emissions, according to Darryl Boyce, Carleton’s assistant vice-president (facilities, management and planning).

“We’ve done a complete assessment of our entire campus looking at opportunities to reduce our energy consumption,” Boyce said.

While Boyce could not directly comment on Carleton’s financial investments, he did say the university would lose money by implementing green or renewable energy sources like solar panels, because Carleton does not qualify for any of the Ontario green energy rebates.

Kristen Perry, an organizer with Divest McGill voiced her concerns about McGill’s current investments.

“We think that an institution that is dedicated to the well-being of society and the environment should not be complicit in funding climate change,” Perry said.

According to Perry, McGill’s divestment campaign began with a small group of students in 2012, working to free McGill from corporate influence. The campaign slowly evolved to concentrate on divestment goals targeting fossil fuels.

In 2012, students drafted a petition urging the university to redirect money from the portion of its almost $1-billion that is invested in fossil fuels, according to the Divest McGill website.

The petition collected over 1,300 signatures and was presented to McGill’s Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR), where it was rejected on grounds of “insufficient evidence of social injury,” according to Perry.

Following the rejection in January 2013, Perry said a call-out was made for interested students, and a larger campaign team was formed to increase awareness and mobilization.

The team currently has 10-20 solid organizational members, and nearly 300 people who are interested in helping out the cause at events, Perry said.

“We’ve mobilized more students for events and rallies, and are working on strengthening our connections with faculty and alumni for this year,” Perry said. “We’re slightly more adversarial since [CAMSR] has demonstrated they require extreme pressure for any action to be taken.”

Perry said they encourage other Canadian universities to divest as well.

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