UBCc350 claims major divestment win even as Extinction Rebellion UBC warns of a hunger strike

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      Two groups of climate activists have issued significantly different responses to the UBC board of governors' recent decisions regarding divestment.

      UBCc350 has been campaigning since 2013 to get the university to dump its investments in fossil-fuel companies.

      A more recently formed group, Extinction Rebellion UBC, has also been advocating for divestment by staging peaceful direct actions on the Point Grey campus, including at UBC board and board committee meetings.

      On December 5, the UBC board voted to unload all of its holdings in fossil fuels in its $381-million Trek land endowment.

      The board also voted to conduct financial and legal reviews to determine how to fully divest from fossil fuels in its $1.71-billion main endowment pool.

      A UBCc350 news release noted that UBC vice president Peter Smailes has declared that "the administration is absolutely committed to getting this done."

      "The university's decision to divest is a public denunciation of the fossil fuel industry," UBCc350 organizer Emily Mittertreiner said in a news release. "We expect that UBC's actions today will pave the way for other major universities to follow suit."

      UBCc350 also applauded the UBC board's decision to remove a condition from the original motion saying that divestment could only occur if it didn't hurt the main investment fund's financial performance.

      UBCc350's submission to a board committee last month tried to refute any attempts by the administration to claim that the board's fiduciary duty precluded full divestment.

      The UBCc350 arguments were reflected in comments by a faculty representative on the board.

      "Our fiduciary duty includes not just looking at the immediate short-term results in terms of revenue, but the long-term role in terms of the well-being of the university," Charles Menzies said at the December 5 meeting. "If we don't have a climate that's habitable, then we actually have not looked to the benefit of the university."

      Young climate activists let the UBC board know what they thought of "partial divestment" at a committee meeting last month.

      Hunger strike threatened by other group

      Extinction Rebellion UBC, on the other hand, issued a far more critical response to the board's actions.

      This newer group has threatened a hunger strike, beginning January 6, if full divestment is not pledged by the end of 2019. It's also calling on the university to publicly denounce the fossil-fuel industry.

      "Full divestment does not mean a promise to explore full divestiture," Extinction Rebellion UBC student organizer Laura Sullivan told the board on December 5. "Rather, it calls for a full-fledged commitment to complete divestment as soon as possible."

      To date, Concordia University in Montreal is the only large Canadian postsecondary institution to pledge to divest from fossil fuels.

      The University of California has also done this, whereas Cambridge and Oxford universities have divested from tar-sands and coal projects. 

      On December 5, UBC president and vice chancellor Santa Ono said that the university has declared a climate emergency.

      "At this pivotal moment, the decisions and actions we take today will reverberate beyond our own borders and lifetimes,” Ono said in a news release. “We appreciate the ongoing commitment of our community to mitigating climate change, especially our students, who have shown their remarkable and commendable leadership to address the most pressing issue of our time.”

      The declaration of a climate emergency involves a "decisive shift away from fossil fuels" and "a rapid and just transition to a sustainable economy", according to the university.

      "The fossil fuel industry is the primary driver of the climate crisis and is crucially responsible for stalling the global response to it," UBCc350 organizer Mukta Chachra said in the group's news release. "Universities have a moral obligation to current students, future students, and communities on the frontlines around the world to break ties with this unethical industry and divest."