An Update from the Fossil Fuels Divestment Movement

 Guest Blog By Elysia Petrone, Out-going SYC Excomm member and Eastern Field Organizer with Fossil Free Canada

I first caught wind of the fossil fuel divestment movement this past fall at Powershift 2012. It was great to hear Bill McKibben talk about the success of the ‘Do the Math’ tour and to learn how many campuses had joined the movement in the United States. After Powershift, SYC was involved in working on the Serious Issues Tour. I attended the workshop in Toronto. There, I met Yasmin Parodi and Kyuwon Kim. Since the three of us were no longer in school, we figured our best point of intervention and divestment strategy would be to pressure McLean’s Magazine to rank the universities on how ethically they invest. Our petition through received over 10 000 signatures. MacLean’s was not agreeable to add this new parameter in its ranking system, but we are hopeful they will write an article on divestment in their fall publication.

Since McMaster University is near by, I decided to launch a divestment campaign there. It did not take long to assemble a core team and start collecting petition signatures. Fossil Free Canada’s website is the place to go to create a petition and launch a new campaign. The website has loads of useful information, including the divestment toolkit which provides a guide on how to start a campaign, a guide on messaging and useful sample letters.

Divest McGill has been leading the way on divestment at Canadian Universities. Their website was helpful in determining strategy.

The group already had done their research and received some impressive endorsements. Through a Freedom of Information request the group knew exactly how much their university had invested in the Tar Sands and the Plan Nord.

In February, I was hired as the Eastern Canada Field Organizer for Fossil Free Canada. My first task was to help coordinate a Fossil Fools National Day of Action. This event really helped unify the national campaign. It was great to see so many creative actions in over a dozen campuses across the country. It has also been great to see the enthusiasm and energy build around this campaign in Canada in a relatively short time. Fossil Free Canada’s Facebook page had only a few hundred likes to start the new year and is now just over seven hundred.

It has also been amazing to celebrate the mini wins the campaigns have experienced along with way. For example, when the University of New Brunswick Fredericton Student Union passed a motion in favour of divestment or when 76% of Trent students endorsed divestment in a school wide referendum. At McMaster, there have been bumps in the road. (Taking away the social license of the riches companies in the world is not going to be easy), but there have also been successes. CUPE 3906 voted unanimously to support Fossil Free McMaster’s divestment campaign and OPIRG McMaster at their AGM voted to divest their own investments.

The next victory for the campaign could come on May 23rd when the Board of Governors at McGill University meets to discuss Divest McGill’s appeal made through the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility. You can help this campaign by signing their open letter to the Board here. Even if Divest McGill does not get the answer they are hoping for, as we learned at the Eastern Canada Divestment Training for Trainers this past weekend, they would use a negative response as fuel to keep escalating their campaign.

The training this past weekend in Montreal, led by Cameron Fenton, the National Director of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition and Amara Possian was awesome. It brought together almost 30 divestment trainers representing campaigns at Lakehead University, Trent, University of Windsor, McGill, Concordia, Dawson College, University of Ottawa, Laurentian University, University of Toronto, McMaster University, Mohawk College and Dalhousie. Fun was had, the movement was fused, connections were made, and an exceptional curriculum was learned. I am excited to watch what this group of people can bring back to their campuses and accomplish in the new school year. Image

To end, here is a favourite saying of mine from Joshua Kahn Russel “We are unstoppable, Another world is Possible!” If you interested in starting a campaign at your own campus, faith group or municipality send me an email at and I will send you some links to get started.

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