What the Heck is Divestment and Why Should I Care?

A picture of the uOttawa smoke stack running at full capacity

Evidence surrounding the link between climate change and anthropogenic greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions has been mounting and is widely accepted within the scientific community. While the environmental impacts of climate change are starting to be felt within Canada and across the world (i.e. environmental problems such as ocean temperature and level rise, desertification and more severe weather events, to name a few) curbing our ghg emissions has been met with much resistance.

Since the People’s Climate March in New York, there has been a lot of talk of divestment, but what exactly is fossil fuel divestment and what does that mean for an institution such as a university? Think of divestment as the opposite of investment, or the removal of funds (such as the money invested in fossil fuel and mining companies) from one’s financial portfolio.
One of the founding arguments in favour of divestment is the concept of carbon bubble. It has been widely accepted within the scientific community that a 2°C increase in global temperature will bring us to a dangerous level of climate change. According to the uOttawa Fossil Free Report, burning 565 gigatons of the total 2795 gigatons of estimated fossil fuel reserves would lead to such a warming.

This is especially alarming when you consider the simultaneous destruction of some of the world’s largest carbon sinks, such as cutting down forests that turn this CO2 into oxygen for us. In our current economic model, climate change is not a valued factor. The carbon bubble theory stipulates that when climate change can no longer be ignored, it will lead to a market crash (or the bursting of the bubble). This makes our present day investments in these companies not so economically sustainable in the future.

Yikes! This sounds terrifying, why have we not divested already?! Well, when we’re talking about large sums of money, such as pension funds (which secure future financial security), CHANGE CAN BE A VERY SCARY THING! There are investments alternatives such as ethical stocks, but in economics, ethics often take a backseat to profit.

“If you breathe air and drink water, this movement concerns you.”
However, divestment is not strictly a financial affair. At its base, the Fossil Free Divestment movement is a social stand against the large corporations that are responsible for widespread environmental destruction. “You can’t drink oil and you can’t eat money.” - Crystal Lameman, indigenous environmental activist.

In Canada, over 30 university campaigns have started up, including the Fossil Free uOttawa! To learn more about their campaign or to read their report, consult their website or show your support by signing their online petition!

Regardless of whether you agree with the divestment movement or not, it does provide a great platform to open a discussion regarding our dependence on fossil fuels. So many of our daily activities rely on them (our transportation, our energy, our textiles, our food etc.) and many of humanity’s most impactful innovations have occurred due to them (such as plastics).

However, there is a great need for these resources to be managed sustainably, and perhaps scaling back and loosening our dependence on them by diversifying our energy options and portfolios is the way to go.
Share your thoughts with us!

~ alice - volunteer and outreach coordinator