Co-written with Nick Weissflog.
As we launch into a new year, the campaign initiated by Sustainable Trent in March to divest Trent from fossil fuels is building strength and momentum. We have returned from the summer months with fresh vision and energy for the year ahead.
In the March 2013 TCSA elections, students voted to support Sustainable Trent’s referendum proposal to divest Trent from fossil fuels by a wide majority of 76%. Sustainable Trent members campaigned all over campus, talking to students about the fact that our university invests millions annually in an industry that makes huge profits by driving climate change, violating Indigenous rights, and polluting the environment with oil spills.
We are calling on our university to withdraw its support from this industry, a move which is both ethically just and financially prudent. In the words of acclaimed scientist and food activist Vandana Shiva: “it’s not an investment if it’s destroying the planet.” You may be thinking: quotes sound great but is divestment truly a logical choice?
We think the answer to this question is a conditional yes (the nuances will be discussed in an article published next week). Consider it this way: Why should our university, which states within its own mission statement that it intends to “Foster sustainability, in its environmental, social and economic dimensions, on our campuses and in all aspects of our work,” invest in that which contradicts its own explicitly stated framework of values? Given this statement of values, Trent continuing to invest in fossil fuels makes as much sense as a social enterprise which promotes chronic well-being choosing to invest its money in a cigarette company.
The effect of an investment is not strictly financial; if you invest money into arms manufacturing it should never be surprising or even appalling to you that people die in gunfights, because it was you who chose to invest in the production of weapons. What must also be realized is that investment by individual institutions creates a cumulative effect. Just as the nature of a machine is shaped by its constituent parts, so is society shaped by the people and organizations it is made up of. If enough of those pieces change, the nature of the machine is changed—perhaps only slightly, but it would be a fundamental error to think that the actions of individual institutions have no effect on society.
Therefore, if Trent is to remain consistent with its stated framework of values it must start putting its money where its mouth is. It is a part of a larger society, and its investments do affect the structure of society. This divestment movement is broad-reaching, as it aims to include not only university endowments but also pension funds, churches and non-profit organizations.
The Trent divestment campaign kicks off September 9 with a Week of Action in tandem with other campaigns on universities across the country. Look out for Sustainable Trent events and actions around campus.
This will be followed by a speaker’s tour coming through Peterborough on Wednesday September 18 called “Tar Sands Reality Check” to tell an alternative story to the narrative advertised by Big Oil and the Harper government about what is happening in the Alberta tar sands.
We want you to get involved, to mobilize with us as we pursue a sustainable future. The decision to divest from fossil fuels will not be an easy choice for Trent’s President and Board of Governors; we need to show them that we care about this issue and that we are not going away.
Let’s show them that divestment is the responsible choice and that Trent can be the bold leader in sustainability it claims to be by becoming the first university in Canada to divest from the fossil fuel industry.
Find us in the KWIC office in the Environmental Science Building (ESB 101) or at Clubs and Groups Day on September 10.