— OPIRG Guelph (@opirgguelph) January 23, 2018
Below is the full speech delivered by Megan Peres on 23 January on behalf of Fossil Free Guelph to the University Board of Governors regarding fossil fuel divestment and the committee report on the subject. As of this meeting, the Board determined to send back the report to Finance Committee for further revisions and reflections.
We would like to acknowledge the Attawandaron, Chonnonton or (Neutral) people on whose traditional territory the University of Guelph sits and which we are currently occupying. We also offer respect to our Haudenosaunee, Anishinabe and Métis neighbors and strive to strengthen our relationships with them. Indigenous communities have begun, and are at the forefront, the fight against fossil fuels, and we need to be their allies.
What do we want University of Guelph’s reputation to look like in 5 years? How about in 10 years? / When climate change becomes even more catastrophic will our university look back with pride on this decision? What side of history will this school stand on? Will the University of Guelph be a clear leader in sustainability?
Philosophically, the University of Guelph agrees that we need to protect our environment. Meeting the 2-degree climate goal is critical, and cannot be achieved without significant fossil fuel reductions, a simple fact that cannot be argued. Our request for full divestment from the fossil fuel industry was evaluated under four criteria. The recommendation made by the finance committee, to maintain current investment strategies, was explained in relation to those criteria.
The first area of concern was fiduciary duty. The committee noted that the risk here is minimal. We agree, and would also like to put forth that there could also be opportunity, as there are plenty of clean investment portfolios providing strong rates of return.
The 2nd criterion was actions of the government. The Canadian Government says that they are committed to curbing climate change, and with that, renewing relationships with indigenous communities. The government has been clear about their goals, but, their actions are not always aligned, as a university we can ensure our actions do stay aligned to our goals. The current federal government recognizes the importance of nation-to-nation relationships with all indigenous nations across Canada. This type of relationship needs to be built on free, prior and informed consent. Therefore, we must recognize the many ways in which indigenous nations have resisted expansion of the fossil fuel industry. For example, over 150 Indigenous nations have signed the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion, to show their withdrawal of consent, for any new fossil fuel project across Canada and the United States. We should take these voices as an incentive for leadership. / The government is continuing to develop the fossil fuel industry, which goes against that treaty, causing harm to indigenous lands especially, / and is also insufficient to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement in time. This is not an issue that can wait. It’s been on the back burner for too long, and time is running out. We can no longer stand by while this matter is discussed back and forth. If the government is not taking direct tangible action, that means we have to. We the people, and especially institutions, have the power to inspire this change in our governments. Imagine if every university in Canada divested? What message would that send to the government? Just recently, New York City committed to divesting, And in addition, are also suing certain companies for covering up the truth about climate change. A quote from Mayor of New york city Bill De Blasio: “We know other cities and states are watching us, and we want them to follow with bold climate action of their own. It’s time to stop pretending and start divesting.”
In light of this new information, it would be unreasonable to accept the committee’s recommendation, as presented, without due consideration of why the New York government chose to divest 5 billion dollars from all fossil fuel companies,/ And whether this can be applied to a university landscape such as our own.
The most important criteria, one that we have focused a lot on, is that of Social Injury. The concern of the committee, regarding this section, is whether or not “divestment from fossil fuel companies is the best course of action for the university to take to mitigate this injury.” We believe that it is. If we support the mitigation of social injury and if we support green initiative, we simply cannot continue to support the largest perpetrators of the climate catastrophe. Whatever other strategies we, and I quote “encourage” or “actively consider” are counterproductive if we are still supporting these companies by investing in them. We have to address this problem at its source. We don’t believe that divestment is the only action that the university should take to solve these issues, but we do believe it is a necessary first step. Until it takes place, there will be an underlying contradiction to any other actions that we take.
In regards to the Strategic Framework, the last criteria that was considered, we agree that this is a complex problem. Divestment is not a single or closed solution; rather it is the first step towards the big picture. While the whole issue of climate change is complex, we are not asking the University of Guelph to solve it. We are asking the University to take initiative, and take concrete immediate action to propel us down the road to the solution, and thus lead by example for other universities in doing so. The finance committee questioned whether the amount of money that we are asking to be divested would be enough to make a difference. Our response is that any amount would make a difference. Millions of dollars could create a tangible impact for the renewable energy market. By transferring money away from fossil fuels and into clean, ethical investment portfolios, this school could support businesses that are actively combating, climate change.
10 years ago, a corporation could build a new pipeline wherever, whenever without the public even noticing. Today, now that those same corporations are trying to duplicate those pipelines, many of them are finding that it’s too late, and that unlike in the past; many pipeline projects are actually being shut down. This is in no way due to their lack of funding. The reason why fossil fuel infrastructure projects are being rejected today is because of public awareness of the issue and a broader understanding of the environmental devastation that these projects cause.
This is how change happens today; through communication, collective action, and connecting to each other through a common understanding of what is right and ethical. We have never suggested that we will be able to seriously impact the finances of these companies. What we ARE suggesting is that by sending a clear message of what we do and do not support, we are part of framing this issue and educating the public about what direction in which to move forward. This is why CBC and other media are here today. This is why, throughout the past 4 years of our campaign, hundreds of students have stood up with us to voice their support for divestment- through referendums, rallies, petitions, and letters. People are watching this decision because they do care. The University of Guelph has this opportunity to be a leader but this opportunity is a time sensitive one.
You have agreed that there is an ethical concern tied to these investments. You said it, the only unknown is the degree of positive impact, but if we continue to wait for others to take on the role of leadership, we are risking a future where the changes we want will never occur. We believe that this leaves us with a pretty simple decision; to do what we know is right and send a clear message about what we want our future to look like. Right now, experts on climate change are saying that if we don’t act fast, it won’t make sense for my generation to have kids because they will not be growing up on a safe planet. This makes me really sad, because I would really love to be a mother someday. The danger of climate change isn’t just something that’s in the near future, it is already happening now. In the last year we have seen a dramatic increase of hurricanes due to the rising carbon in the atmosphere. For example, the people of Puerto Rico were hit by the eye of a storm, and left without food, water, or electricity. After 46 days they still had no power. Approximately 250 thousand homes were destroyed. So far we have been lucky in Canada, but we are not immune. Imagine if we lost power like that, in minus 20-degree weather.
If this board votes to divest it will prove that this is a green school willing to take action on climate change. BUT, if this board votes NOT to divest, this school’s green reputation will be tarnished, and we will remain a contributor to the problem. Many students came to this school due to its environmentally friendly reputation. Now is the time to live up to that reputation by divesting from fossil fuels. We hope to graduate from the University of Guelph being proud to call it a green leader.