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  April 6, 2016

Calls For Fossil Fuel Divestment Ignite Across Canadian Campuses

Students at McGill University take action against administration's refusal to divest, while new divestment campaigns emerge in Alberta, ground zero of tar sands production
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SHAGHAYEGH TAJVIDI: Welcome to The Real News Network, I’m Shaghayegh Tajvidi in Toronto.

For those in the fossil fuel divestment movement, April 1st marks Fossil Fool’s day. In a national day of action, student across Canadian campuses will be telling policy makers as well as their own University administrations to move away from Canada’s Tar Sands and toward clean energy alternatives. University administrations have reacted to the calls for divestment in a variety of ways. Like at McGill, whose board of governors rejected it for the second time just last week, and whose students responded with a sit-in in front of the president’s office. Meanwhile

the university of Winnipeg may become the first in Canada to adopt a investment frame work. Now joining me to discuss all the recent buzz unfolding across these Canadian campuses, is Katie Perfitt. She’s the Canadian divestment organizer with the group 350 and has been campaigning with Divest Dal is Halifax, Nova Scotia for the last 3 years. Today Katie joins me from Edmonton, Alberta. Thanks for being with us

KATIE PERFITT: Thanks for having me.

TAJVIDI: Katie, you’ve been in Edmonton for the last few days for an event called Power Shift. Um, which provides a platform for many in the climate movement to come together and to think collectively about environmental justice and green transitions. And there’s something exciting about this event happening in Alberta this year. So could you say a little bit about why that’s the case and what you will be seeing over the next few days.

PERFITT: Of course yeah. It’s a really pivotal time for the climate movement in Canada. And to have a power shift convergence- a gathering of youth, who are interested and really excited about the next energy economy is really amazing. So today one of the most- one the really excited things about this conference is that we actually were able to launch a divestment campaign at the University of Alberta. So students rallying behind the call for divestment here, in tar sands country, because they want they want a different, they want other alternatives when they come out of University. But there’s so many exciting things happening in Alberta right now that are signaling the shift to the next energy economy. So there’s lots of reasons to be excited why Power Shift Alberta is happening right now. And particular to me, is that they’re launching a divestment campaign here.

TAJVIDI: So this has been really hectic week for student climate activists, and like I mentioned, there’s been a variety of responses to these calls for divestments. As we know, several Universities have strongly rejected the move to, move away from investing in fossil fuels. Some Universities being the university of Toronto, Dalhousie, and of course, McGill, where the students began an occupation on Tuesday, and then just hours ago today, Alumni began to return their degrees in a symbolic protest. Um, can you talk more about this push back and where the interests of these administrations continue to align with that of extractive industry.

PERFITT: Yeah for sure. So yeah that’s it’s a really interesting thing that’s happening here in Canada. We’ve seen around the world, over 500 institutions formally come out and say they want to divest. They don’t want to be invested in the fossil fuel industry. So that’s coal, oil, and natural gas. They don’t want their money there any more. They don’t want to be investing in that. That includes here in Canada, the Canadian Medical Association, um, and other major foundations saying that they want to remove their investments from fossil fuel industries. The peculiar thing is that we actually haven’t seen any campus campaigns be successful in Canada. In the United States their are swarms of universities that have taken up this call, but we haven’t seen that in any university in Canada yet. And I think there’s a, there’s a, I think there’s a really clear reason of why that is. So we’ve seen at, for example the university of Toronto, where there was a board appointed expert committee formed, that actually recommended to the board to divest, but the board chose to go against that recommendation, and their not divesting. Their choosing to greenwash their investment policy but their not actually going to take the steps to divest from coal, oil, and natural gas. So I don’t think it’s unique to the University of Toronto either. For example, at Dalhousie University in Halifax, we have a board makeup that includes representatives from Nova Scotia Power Inc, and InCana. And so having people who are making decisions about our universities that are actually making their bread and butter off the fossil fuel industry, makes it really clear why decision are being made that aren’t transitioning us away from that energy sector and towards renewable energy sector. Those decisions are being made to serve those people that are in those powerful positions and not students, faculty and the climate.

TAJVIDI: Now I know you’ve been in close touch with organizers across these different campuses in Canada. Can you say a little bit about what’s happening in McGill today. As I mentioned, alumni have been returning their degrees- this degree returning ceremony. What have you heard of how that action has been received by the administration or by the community at large at McGill?

PERFITT: Yeah so the, the degree returning ceremony happened after 3 days of student sit-ins in their presidents office. And so the students left the president’s office, there were lots of people at the ceremony. And there were lots of people who were there to give testimony and return their degree to McGill, because they’re frustrated after over three years of campaigning for divestment, that the University of McGill won’t even admit that fossil fuel companies cause social injury. So to hear your own university administration completely ignore the facts on climate change and the real lived experiences of climate impacts and industrial extraction, has to be incredibly frustrating as a student, as a former student to here. So those people that were there today were ready to give back their degree and really denounce that decision from McGill.

TAJVIDI: I want to shift gears a bit to discuss how the divestment movement is responding to this new liberal government and if you sense any space to maybe escalate the campaign’s efforts now in this post-Harper Canada. Because as we know, unlike Harper, Trudeau has acknowledged, at the level of rhetoric anyway, that climate change is a worsening reality but at the same time, he’s also talking about fossil fuels funding the transition to a greener economy. And this has raised some eyebrows. So what do you make of this as a divestment organizer.

PERFITT: Yeah, I- as a divestment organizer and as someone whose you know, I have my own opinions about the new government- I don’t think anyone's hanging their hats on the Trudeau government. Certainly not anyone in the climate justice movement. That’s for sure. And so I think people aren’t ready to wait to see if Justin Trudeau will live up to that rhetoric that he spewed during his election campaign. I think we are already seeing some back pedaling on the even more light promises that they made during the election. So yeah, I think the climate movement isn’t going to sit around and wait for the T Trudeau government to make the right decisions. Their going to be pushing really hard. Everyone in this movement, whether it’s people who are going to be stopping pipelines, keeping oil and gas in the ground, divestment organizers across the board, people are not seeing the new liberal government as a reason to let up. It’s actually a reason to push even harder since their might be a little crack in the door.

TAJVIDI: Well we’re going to be keeping a close eye to the divestment efforts and the divestment fights across these campuses and hope to speak to you again as these things unfold. Thank you for joining us today from Power Shift, Katie.

PERFITT: Thank you for having me.

TAJVIDI: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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