“The University of Victoria has a long history of leadership in sustainability.” — University of Victoria, Sustainability Action Plan 2014–2019
There are a number of reasons as to why you might have chosen the University of Victoria to pursue your post-secondary education. Perhaps it was the location, the allure of going to school on an island in the capital of the province with a gorgeous downtown. Or, maybe it was because UVic branded itself as a campus focused on sustainability and environmental protection, as a campus on the “Edge.”
UVic may not be everything it seems, however. There’s no doubt that there are positive things happening at UVic like compost and recycling bins around campus, the zero-waste Mystic Market in the University Centre, and the newly introduced Human Dimensions of Climate Change Certificate. This being said, not everything is as shiny and ‘green’ as you might think.
In 2013, a group of students decided that there was something that needed to be brought to people’s attention: UVic’s investments in fossil fuels. They formed a campaign called Divest UVic and describe themselves and their mission statement as follows:
“A group advocating for UVic to stop investing in the fossil fuel industry. Not only is it immoral, but it is economically irresponsible to invest in the destruction of our climate, lands, and livelihoods. We hold UVic accountable to its claims of sustainability, in the interest of our present and futures.”
UVic currently invests millions in fossil fuel companies that not only harm the environment but contribute to climate change denialism. This money comes from donations that the university invests to make money for bursaries and scholarships, among other things. If you want more extensive information, check out this article by UVic assistant professor James Rowe. Also, a quick google of “Divest UVic” (or Martlet search!) will provide you with a bunch of articles on the club, past movements, and controversies over UVic’s actions.
The movement for divestment is primarily a social one, as Divest UVic knows if the university divests from fossil fuels these companies can continue to run without UVic’s money. However, the main problem these students have with the university’s choice to support the use of fossil fuels is that UVic brands itself as a campus focused on environmental protection and sustainability, and is very successful in doing so. This branding is therefore contradictory to what the institution is actually practicing to some extent. Yes, we have some great programs in place to forward sustainability, but ultimately the university is not fully committed to its branding.
For example, in UVic’s 2012 Strategic Plan they state that they are committed to “promoting the development of a just and sustainable society through our programs of education and research and the stewardship of our own financial and physical resources,” but continue to put a portion of their finances into environmental degradation. Additionally, as one of their objectives, they want to “demonstrate leadership in sustainability… and implementation of innovative operational practices.” But the students at Divest UVic say that for UVic to be complacent in their investments is the opposite of leadership, and is instead perpetuates the idea that it is okay to not only falsely advertise, but promote the use of fossil fuels.
You may have heard of the “UVic Edge” before, either here on campus or plastered on bus shelters downtown. UVic describes “The Edge” as
“where dynamic learning and vital impact meet…together, these elements nurture creative activity and ground us in the urgency of sustainability and healthy societies; shape our worldview with Indigenous and international perspectives; and fuel our commitment to economic well-being, technological advances and social justice.”
That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? But it would be even better if they could put it into practice. UVic wants to brand itself as a leader, but to do so they should actually be committed to making positive changes and making them first. When discussing their goals for the Edge, they talk about the “urgency of sustainability and healthy societies.” Even UVic knows that there isn’t time to wait on issues like this. Indigenous communities too are often disproportionately affected by climate change, and UVic says they want to “shape [their] worldview with Indigenous…perspectives.” Wouldn’t evidence of this be recognizing how pipelines are destroying Indigenous land? They specifically link sustainability and environmental sustainability in their Indigenous Plan for 2017-2022, yet dismiss the contradictory nature of their statements and actions.
It’s not that the university doesn’t know the impacts of fossil fuels. They even state that “our reliance on fossil fuels has a limited future.” The members of Divest UVic are tired of their university’s contradictory message, and so are a lot of the staff. In 2014, a faculty wide vote garnered 66% in favour for divestment and in 2015, a referendum was held with 77% of student voters in favour. The UVic Faculty for Fossil Fuel Divestment is a group of UVic faculty who are opposed to UVic’s problematic investments and often work with Divest UVic on projects and petitions. For example, in 2015 they wrote an open letter to the university explaining their position.
If this has sparked your interest at all, the Divest crew would love to see you at a meeting! You can find more information on their Facebook page or website. If you are interested in getting involved in more ways as well, feel free to sign Divest UVic’s pledge or the UVic Faculty for Fossil Fuel Divestment’s petition.