Students threaten hunger strike if UBC does not fully divest from fossil fuels
A protester with the group Extinction Rebellion wears the likeness of an orca whale and a black veil as the group occupies the Burrard Bridge closing it to vehicle traffic going into and out of downtown Vancouver, on Monday October 7, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
VANCOUVER -- A climate crisis activist group is threatening to go on a hunger strike starting Jan. 6 if the University of British Columbia does not move more quickly to take investments out of fossil fuel industries.
On Dec. 5, UBC declared a climate emergency and pledged to further analyze how it could divest the $1.71 billion endowment fund from fossil fuels. The university is committing to move 22 per cent of the fund, or $380 million, into a fossil fuel-free fund by April 2020.
Members of the UBC chapter of Extinction Rebellion say that’s not good enough.
“We need UBC to commit to full divestment by the end of this year for us to not go on a hunger strike,” said Laura Sullivan, a member of the UBC chapter of Extinction Rebellion and a fourth year engineering student.
“It sounds like a very drastic measure, but things are very drastic across the world right now. Climate change is hitting countless communities and destroying lives right now as we speak.”
Sullivan said the members of Extinction Rebellion UBC were inspired to take the hunger strike action by Roger Hallam. Hallam is a British co-founder of Extinction Rebellion who went on a hunger strike in an effort to push his university, King’s College, to fully divest from fossil fuel investments.
UBC made the decision to partially divest from fossil fuels at a board of governors meeting on Dec. 5. The university also publicly declared a climate emergency.
UBC treasurer Yale Loh said that currently, around two per cent, or $43 million, of the university’s endowment fund is invested in “the extractive fossil fuel industry.”
But, he said, there are more factors to consider before fully removing all of the money from those investments.
“These factors include the most effective ways that UBC can influence companies to pursue more sustainable approaches, mitigating potential penalties for removing investments from pooled funds that contain such extractive fossil fuel industry securities, and identifying appropriate alternative funds that are in keeping with the university’s core fiduciary responsibilities to donors, students, faculty, staff, and alumni,” Loh said in a press release.
But Sullivan said that’s not good enough, considering how climate change is already impacting people and ecosystems around the globe, and will only continue to get worse if swift action isn’t taken now.
Extinction Rebellion has held several disruptive protests in Vancouver this year. On Oct. 7, the group shut down the Burrard Bridge for the entire day as a way to draw attention to vehicle emissions. On Nov. 29, activists caused traffic delays when they protested Black Friday by occupying the intersection of Burrard and Robson for several hours.