Sunday, May 20, 2018
Last updated: 3 years ago

Letter: Divestment won’t solve the climate crisis

File photo Cherihan Hassun / The Ubyssey

File photo Cherihan Hassun / The Ubyssey

Climate change has been a very hot topic (pun intended) these days and everyone wants to know what they can do to help solve the problem. Recently, a fossil fuel divestment campaign led by UBCC350 has convinced a number of students and faculty members that divestment is the answer to the climate crisis.


Scientific studies have shown that the majority of greenhouse gas emissions are actually released at the point of consumption. This suggests that the solution to climate change is to reduce the amount of fossil fuels consumed rather than oppose the companies who produce them.

The organization behind UBC’s divestment campaign, UBCC350, has posted a faculty open letter on its website. The letter claims that divestment can “…reduce a company’s stock price, pressuring companies to shift their investment to clean energy such as wind and solar power.”

The divestment strategy has come under fire by many critics. Institutions such as Columbia, Harvard and New York University have already stated their opposition towards divestment. A University of Chicago Law School professor, Daniel Fischel, published a study which concluded that portfolios that chose to divest energy equities had reduced returns in comparison to those that didn’t. UBCC350′s open letter attempts to rebuke some of these criticisms with radical ideology.

The sixth paragraph in the letter seemingly acknowledges that UBC would lose funding from sponsorships and private donations, but assumes that it would make up these losses through additional donations secured by being strong environmental stewards. The letter calls for “rapid and significant changes in our energy system” and that this can be achieved through the “dramatic action of divestment.” The campaign claims to have “overwhelming” support from students when, in fact, only 6,786 students voted in favour out of a population close to 60,000.

It also fails to recognize that consumers are part of the problem. Fossil fuels are essential to the use, transportation and creation of everyday items. Society’s demand for these products is why fossil fuels are extracted in the first place. If the goal of UBCC350 is to influence energy companies into shifting away from the production of fossil fuels, focusing on reducing consumption would be a much better strategy than divestment. By eliminating demand for fossil fuel products, we eliminate the incentive to extract them.

Now the question becomes, “How do we reduce our fossil fuel consumption?” Fortunately for us, our university happens to be a world leader in green innovations. Some of the construction that you see all across campus is part of the Academic District Energy System (ADES) project. This initiative aims to replace our old heating systems with newer and more efficient heating infrastructure. By increasing the efficiency of heating our buildings, we reduce the amount of fossil fuels we consume.

Rather than wasting our efforts on long‐shot ideologies like divestment, our community needs to concentrate on reducing fossil fuel consumption. The divestment campaign has great intentions, but does not address real efforts to control emissions. I encourage students to look into local projects such as ADES and to brainstorm other green initiatives, inventions and policies.

In order to solve this worldwide problem, both faculty and students need to focus efforts on the root cause of global warming rather than radicalize our school against fossil fuel companies who are simply supplying the world’s demand for energy.

– With files from Mark Westaway

Alex Chow is a fourth-year chemical and biological engineering student at UBC. Mark Westaway is a fourth-year political science student at UBC.