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UBC, Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: Divestment Update

Isn’t it a shame when your perceptions of something end up being ill-founded? I suppose that’s just a reality of growing up—things are not always as they seem, and UBC’s commitment to sustainability is no exception to this truth. One of the driving forces behind my choice to attend UBC was its progressive environmental approach, which is apparent in the growing number of sustainably designed campus buildings, its waste management system, and other “green” lifestyle initiatives promoted across campus. Where does the money to fund these projects come from though? The answer to this question was discovered upon joining the climate justice activist group, UBC C350, which is currently challenging the fact that part of our university’s endowment fund is directly invested in the fossil fuel industry.

Last year’s student divestment campaign brought this topic to the forefront when approximately 76.9% of students voted in favour of a proposal demanding that UBC “immediately forgo further investments in fossil fuel companies, and divest from all existing fossil fuel holdings within five years”. UBC political science professor Kathryn Harrison puts it best: “students find it unconscionable that an institution that is preparing them for their future is basically financially betting against that future”. If UBC encourages us as students to take ownership of our campus and sport “I AM UBC” swag, then it should come as no surprise that students are demanding transparency and integrity in the context of campus sustainability.

UBCC350 at Board of Governor's meeting last April

UBCC350 at Board of Governor’s meeting last April

We may all be hypocrites to a certain extent–heck, I call myself an environmentalist yet I wreck my carbon footprint every time I take a plane home–but it is immoral for UBC to profit off of $100 million worth of investment in the industry that is causing climate change while it markets itself as an “agent of change to address some of society’s most pressing sustainability challenges.”[1]

Students have simply requested that the university walk the talk, but the Board of Governors, the committee in charge of investment decisions, are not yet convinced and have responded by implementing a Responsible Investment Strategy with fossil fuel shares still included in the portfolio. This is why last week marked the official launch of UBC C350’s Faculty Divestment campaign. Winning the support of UBC’s faculty members is crucial for gaining leverage for the campaign and will build climate justice solidarity across the campus community.

As my friend and fellow divestment organizer Nicholas Curry has said, “I don’t think a faculty mass mobilization campaign, organized by students has ever been done before on this campus which is one of the reasons I am excited”. Members of the activist group are seeking out the support of as many faculty members as possible by collecting signatures for an open letter, which can be found here. This is interdisciplinary and intergenerational cooperation in action that is seeking to realign UBC with the values it claims to stand for.

Everyone is welcome to join the effort! UBC C350 meets every Tuesday at 5pm in the Forest Science Centre, room 1002. I have invested my savings in UBC for the sake of my future, all I ask is that UBC does the same.

[1] UBC Sustainability. (2014). Our commitment.