Earlier this year, environmentalists from Western Canada Wilderness Committee called for UVic to divest their holdings from Enbridge due to the threat of climate change, among many others. Enbridge’s proposed pipeline project is causing considerable unrest in the province, creating undue stress on First Nations groups that are opposed to these developments.
Others have specifically maintained that the pension fund secures the future of thousands of members and must be treated carefully. Here, I believe ethical considerations are missing. Not only are things bound to change; they must. Those “things” are the real world conditions — relationships that generate the future that people are looking forward to. Financial security looks desirable from one dimension, but taking into account the impact (and dependency) of the university’s investments on the infringement of Indigenous people’s rights and the environment, it looks less appealing, though still perhaps, not for some.
Who exactly are those people who benefit from the current investment policies, anyway?
A question that keeps being brought up with much misunderstanding is when are we going to prioritize the environment and the people that rely on it? More importantly, what is preventing the campus community from seeing the direct connection between these investments and the unhealthy relationships that it is fostering?
Perhaps willful denial is a common thread in the university’s relations, but it is subtler than that; it disappears in a smokescreen of newspeak: “fiduciary duty,” “financial obligations,” “priorities,” and even more obscurant: the feel-good branding of an “energy audit.”
An energy audit of buildings pales in comparison when an organization invests in the tar sands, unless it dismisses that in its accounts.
Should we act sooner? Do we act together and separately?
There is growing consensus in Generation Squeeze (those burdened with debt and shrinking opportunities) that we can at least imagine a better future for the next generation and ourselves. Some believe this is an imperative. Overcoming the shortsightedness of investing in tar sands mining, or gold mining, might look more appealing if people saw the direct benefits of investing locally. What could the endowment fund, with $17 million invested in fossil fuel companies, do for our community with, say, a community investment fund that helped local organizations scale up their establishment of food security in the region (which, dare I say, might benefit our grandchildren, but who is looking that far ahead anyways?) or other organizations that would deliver more value-added social benefits than tar sands dollars and blood money from Goldcorp?
When and where and do these conversations take place?
For those voices not demanding recognition from the university to change their practices (out of political savvy or out of exhaustion), creating alternatives provides ample opportunity to invest in sustainable and ethical relationships grounded in real communities. Not in the artifice of the state, nor towards the “guarantee” of financial security. For some, it is not the drive to escape complicity that motivates alternative investment, but the reward of recognizing and being accountable in all our relations.
Andrew Fortune is affiliated with Divest UVic.