A teacher at Bayview elementary school has crossed the first hurdle in trying to persuade the Teachers’ Pension Plan board of trustees to dump investments in fossil-fuel companies.
At a February 14 divestment rally at the corner of West Broadway and Bayswater Street, Sue Wali told the Straight that her resolution on this issue has been passed by the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association.
“So we’re going to the BCTF AGM [annual general meeting] in Victoria in mid-March and it will be brought forward for the provincewide teachers to vote on,” she said.
Wali said that two parents with children at her school, Gili Avrahami and Peter Graham, helped her come up with the idea. Wali noted that the global divestment movement is gathering incredible momentum around the world.
“The overwhelming scientific evidence is showing that we must leave 80 percent of the fossil fuels in the ground or we will be facing runaway climate change, which will be catastrophic for our children,” Wali said. “We’re already seeing climate disasters, particularly in the poorer regions. But we’re seeing it here in B.C., too. The pine-beetle infestation was actually a climate-change-, global-warming-related catastrophe, but we don’t make the connections.”
When the Straight asked Wali what helped crystallize her thoughts on the importance of divestment, she cited the TV series Years of Living Dangerously, which was created by Canadian director James Cameron.
"At one point, Harrison Ford goes up into space with NASA and they're collecting carbon emissions," Wali said. "They came back and on the huge screens of NASA, they're showing the temperature of the United States—a graph—in 1950.
"And at that point," she continued, "there was only one small part in Arizona that was red—that was over 100°F in July. And then they go over it decade by decade by decade."
By 2070, Wali noted, the entire United States appeared red in July.
"It was the most visceral shocking moment for me because the world's leading climate scientists that work at NASA that have studied this for decades have said this is actually a conservative estimate."
At the same divestment rally, Avrahami told the Straight that she wants a future for her three children, but she worries what they might face as a result of climate change.
“I have that question mark that I’m silently telling to myself and not voicing to them, obviously,” she said. “It’s really hard to raise children that way. I’m thinking that everyone needs to embrace the idea that we can’t go on the way we did.”
Avrahami emphasized that divestment in fossil fuels is one tool to rein in energy companies that are jeopardizing her children's future.
She pointed out that Rich Kinder, a Texas billionaire, reaped an $800-million windfall in one day last year when he reconsolidated his corporate empire.
Yet Avrahami stated that Trans Mountain, the pipeline company owned by Kinder Morgan, averaged just $1.5 million in annual federal and provincial taxes over a five-year period.
"It will take Canada 500 years to get what this guy gets in one day," she said. "It doesn't make sense. We are putting all this money in making these few people rich, but really, we get nothing....We can have all these jobs in a good, green sustainable economy. So I think divestment is more about thinking about what we are doing here."
The idea is being embraced on B.C. university campuses. Students at UBC, SFU, and UVic have all voted in favour of their institutions divesting investments in fossil-fuel companies.
UBC faculty recently voted 62 percent in favour of the idea, too.
The divestment movement has been given a push by 350.org, which was named this way to highlight the importance of reducing atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels to 350 parts per million. It currently stands over 400 parts per million.
The founder of 350.0rg, Bill McKibben, wrote the forward to a 2013 book, The Burning Question: We Can't Burn half the world's oil, coal and gas. So how do we quit?
It described in detail how corporate balance sheets are buffeted by proven-reserve levels, which push up energy companies' share price but which can never be burned because to do so would create a climate catastrophe.
Authors Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clark argued that the more people demand or sound the alarm to reduce the use of fossil fuels, the better the chance of averting disaster.
"Deals and technologies that look many years away could happen almost overnight if enough of us decide to try and make them happen," they wrote in the book's concluding paragraph. "Alternatively, we could keep going on as we are: ignoring or playing down the risks and putting the responsibility for action elsewhere. But that would mean taking a monumental gamble with our children's future, and a species as intelligent as ours surely wouldn't do that. Would it?"