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Climate justice: An issue of basic human rights

When talking about climate change, we are used to hearing alarm bells like “catastrophic warming,” “global sea level rise,” and “habitat loss.” Such terms trigger thoughts to protect our environment and biodiversity. While that’s part of the concern, the reality is that the implications of climate change are further reaching than maintaining picturesque places, wild animals, and pretty plants. The climate justice movement is, at its root, concerned with the welfare of the world’s peoples, particularly the most marginalized.

Time is running out. Time has already run out for millions around the world. Families are losing their homes, food and water scarcity are real threats, people are forced to stay indoors due to air pollution and tropical diseases are spreading. Inhabitants of countries like Libya and Kiribati are being displaced and even dying due to climate change; they no longer have time to debate how to implement climate mitigation measures. All the while, too many Canadians live comfortable lives, taking their social security for granted and rarely thinking twice about their role to play in the all of this mess.

At the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, Canada committed to keeping the world well below 2°C of warming. This sounds like a success, but the Trudeau government has refused to adopt strong emissions targets that reflect this commitment, instead adopting the same low targets as the Harper government.

Trudeau continues to approve fossil fuel projects, subsidize the industry and has been considering new pipelines. While the burning of fossil fuels is not the only cause of global warming, it is the one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate policy conversations in Canada are currently disconnected from the decisions made over the type of infrastructure that is built and the endeavours that are pursued.  This is because current assessments for infrastructure are based on a “business as usual” global market economic analysis trajectory of burning fossil fuels. But a “business as usual” scenario is consistent with a 6°C warmer world

Life as we know it will not exist in such a world.

How do we avoid this dire, seemingly inevitable future? We need to stop talking about “greening” our economy while continuing “business as usual.” Instead, it’s essential to start a conversation about shifting away from a fossil-fuel based economy entirely. One way to build pressure to pursue this change is through divestment.

Investing in fossil fuels places a seal of approval on an industry whose profit model depends on wrecking our future. We have reached a tipping point where investment returns in renewable energy are now on the rise and green jobs have outpaced oil sands jobs in Canada.

Money invested in the fossil fuel industry is money going down the drain. On the contrary, investment funds such as Genus Capital and North Growth Management are fossil free, and are reportedly doing better than funds that invest in fossil fuel companies.

And yet Dalhousie University – a self-proclaimed leader in sustainability – has about $20 million is invested in fossil fuels.

Divest Dal is calling for Dalhousie to take the moral high ground and divest from these companies. It is shameful to know the reasons why the Dalhousie Board of Governors voted not to divest in November 2014.

Among other things, they feared that withdrawing investment in Shell would result in a lost opportunity to play a major role in oil exploration off the Scotian Shelf. How can this possibly be a concern when we are living in a time when we cannot afford to burn all the oil we have in known reserves, let alone carry out new exploration!

Divest Dal has not accepted the Board of Governors’ decision as final. The pressure is still on because the climate crisis is an issue of morality, of equity, of basic human rights.

Is Dalhousie a university that puts industry over the rights of its students? A university that lets industry dictate education? A university that endorses the consumption of fossil fuels that threatens our future ability to study what we wish because we will be struggling to survive? If so, this is not a university that can be proud of its environmental status.

It is time to stand up for climate justice. It is time to take responsibility for those less fortunate that are living on the frontlines of the climate crisis. It is time to divest.


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