Students with Extinction Rebellion UBC plan hunger strike on first day of classes in 2020

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      Eight UBC undergraduate students are going to put their bodies on the line to try to force the administration to immediately divest from fossil fuels.

      In a news release issued today, Extinction Rebellion UBC announced that these students, aged 19 to 23, will go on a hunger strike on Monday (January 6), which is the first day of classes in 2020.

      They will be joined at 11:15 a.m. by the Red Rebel Brigade at the hunger strike's opening ceremony. It will take place in the Nest, which is operated by the Alma Mater Society.

      These red-robed performance artists dress this way to convey the emotional magnitude of the climate crisis and to symbolize the blood connecting the human species to the Earth.

      During the hunger strike, the students plan to occupy an area outside the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre and inside its lobby (6163 University Boulevard) for extended periods, every day, between 10:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.

      "We welcome anyone, including members of the board of governors, to come sit with us and talk about their feelings and opinions about our dying planet and UBC's role in its increasingly obvious decline," first-year geography student Extinction Rebellion UBC coordinator Emma Pham said in a news release.

      Pham and the seven other students say they won't eat food for as long as possible without risking hospitalization or permanent health consequences.

      They'll only consume water and vitamins but will stop the hunger strike if university officials publicly commit to ridding the endowment funds of shares in fossil-fuel companies.

      Pham pointed out that millions of people are living with food insecurity and hunger as a result of climate disasters and related wars.

      "UBC's profiting from fossil fuel and extractive industries makes our institution, and indirectly us, complicit," Pham said. "We are saying 'no more!' "

      Another hunger striker, fourth-year engineering student Torbjorn Reitan Fyrvik, claimed that administrators declared a climate emergency last month without making actual commitments.

      "This greenwashing is unacceptable to us," Fyrvik said.

      A separate climate-advocacy group on campus, UBCc350, claimed a major victory in December after the board of governors voted to divest the fossil-fuel holdings in the $381-million Trek land endowment.

      At the time, the board also voted to conduct financial and legal reviews to evaluate how it could divest from fossil fuels in the university's main $1.71-billion endowment pool.

      UBCc350 issued a news release in December quoting UBC vice president Peter Smailes' comment that "the administration is absolutely committed to getting this done."

      But that's not good enough for Extinction Rebellion UBC. It's part of the decentralized international group of climate activists called Extinction Rebellion, which was founded in the U.K. in 2018.

      It believes time has almost entirely run out to address an ecological crisis that includes the sixth mass extinction and the possibility of runaway climate change triggered by feedback loops.

      Extinction Rebellion's first major action in Vancouver occurred when it took over the Burrard Bridge all day and well into the evening on October 7.
      Charlie Smith

      Extinction Rebellion practises peaceful civil disobedience in the hope that a climate uprising will bring about genuine and long-lasting changes.

      It has three demands:

      1. Governments tell the truth about how deadly the climate crisis is by working with the media to communicate the urgency for change and by reversing all policies not in alignment with the necessity for getting off fossil fuels.

      2. Governments must enact legally binding policies for their jurisdictions to become net-zero emitters of carbon dioxide equivalents by 2020.

      3. Create a citizens' assembly to call members of the public together to decide which measures are necessary to ensure a just and fair transition to a carbon-free world.

      The hunger strike at UBC will come during an unprecedented bushfire crisis in Australia.

      Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State University, recently highlighted the role that a warming planet is having on these fires, which have reportedly killed nearly half a billion animals and 24 people.

      "You take unprecedented heat, like we're seeing here in Australia," Mann told ABC News (Australia). "You combine it with unprecedented drought, which means that there is a lot of fuel available for these fires. You put those things together [and] you're going to get the sorts of unprecedented bushfires that we're seeing play out."

      More than double the amount of land has burned in this fire season in Australia as burned in the two record wildfire years together in B.C. in 2017 and 2018.

      Video: Climate scientist Michael Mann discusses the links between a warming planet and the bushfire emergency in Australia.