Jeff Rubin: The Case for Divesting from Fossil Fuels in Canada

Watch Jeff Rubin’s public lecture on divestment from fossil fuels hosted by Divest Waterloo and the Centre for International Governance Innovation on May 11.

Jeff Rubin is a CIGI senior fellow, former chief economist at CIBC World Markets, and thought leader on the economics of energy sources.

Talk begins at about the 8 min mark:

Musings on the major anti-divestment arguments

by Andrea Loken, ECA co-founder and President OSSTF Limestone Teachers

1. If we don’t invest in fossil fuels, someone else will.

This is sort of like Stephen Harper’s argument for Canada’s opposition to ambitious climate targets at the UN climate talks – unless the big players like US and China were going to do it, Canada wouldn’t bother. He argued that Canada’s contributions to carbon emissions aren’t significant on the global scale, absolving us of responsibility.

Mental health/control freak tip: You can’t control what others do. Do it because it’s the right thing to do. Do it for Indigenous communities whose rights are violated. Do it for future generations so they might inherit a livable planet.

2. Divesting won’t hurt fossil fuel companies.

Ronald McDonald probably won’t be hurt if I don’t eat Big Macs either, but it doesn’t mean I should eat them if I don’t want to. I DON’T WANT A BIG MAC.

3. We will lose money.

It’s possible, but… [Sarcasm alert:] That’s the first thing that comes to mind when I close my eyes and see the pictures of police hosing down Indigenous People and other land defenders with water cannons in sub-zero temperatures at Standing Rock last November.

Hmmm. Money or Indigenous rights? Money or water? Hmmm…

OR consider this: We might NOT lose money. We might lose money if we remain invested in fossil fuels. Last year a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives indicated that the OTPP lost nearly $1.8 billion and OMERS lost $192 million in the 2014 oil price shock. Here is the report:

CCPA: Pension Funds and Fossil Fuels: The Economic Case for Divestment (2015)

Another useful report can be found here:

Carbon Tracker: Lost in Transition: How the energy sector is missing potential demand destruction (2015)

4. Engagement with fossil fuel companies is a better strategy.

Maybe. But I don’t believe it. First, because according to strong science, we only have a carbon budget of about 500 gigatons – about 15 years – to transition off fossil fuels to maintain a livable planet []. In other words, at least 80% of known reserves have to remain in the ground. How do you engage with a fossil fuel corporation on that premise? There is no ‘good’ way to burn unburnable carbon. And 15 years?! We don’t have time to engage! Secondly, this isn’t an either/or argument. We can engage away while we have ownership. Engage and tell the fossil fuel giants to stop hiding the evidence of anthropogenic climate change.

The time to act is now. Any how. Any way. We need to make a shift. We have all the technology we need to make the transition. Let’s take into our own hands that which we can. We don’t have to invest in fossil fuels.  We don’t have to support corporations which are notorious for abuse of Indigenous rights. We have a choice.


Is the fossil fuel industry ignoring risks of declining demand?

Read the whole article from by Ben Adler – October 28, 2015:

Fossil fuel companies aren’t just bad for the climate — they’re bad investments

“The Carbon Tracker Initiative, an energy industry research group, published a landmark report on this in 2011, which inspired the divestment movement. Now the group is out with a new report,  “Lost in Transition: How the energy sector is missing potential demand destruction,” comparing published fossil fuel industry scenarios to financial market research. Carbon Tracker finds that the industry is ignoring risks of declining demand.”

Teachers urge $175 billion pension fund to flex muscle on climate change

Thank you to Riley Sparks for his story in the National Observer.

We have addressed some of the arguments raised by the OTPP in various blog posts:

Engagement vs Divestment: Questioning OTPP’s strategy

Courage from the Earth Defenders at Standing Rock

Divestment: A necessary and powerful tool

Why divestment if, arguably, it won’t hurt fossil fuel companies?

Thank you AMPA 2017, but the divestment conversation is not over

OSSTF, divestment and decolonization

By Andrea Loken, ECA co-founder

Thank you so much to AMPA 2017 for taking time to debate the divestment of OSSTF’s Internal Investment Fund. Despite debate being cut a little short [IMHO], many good points were made and some good questions asked. The motion to divest internal investments did not pass. Other motions regarding OTPP and OMERS divestment did not get to the floor. But this is only the beginning of the conversation.

While there is a global fossil-fuel divestment movement spear-headed by Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben in response to the climate crisis, my ninety second opening argument for divestment focused on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. The issues are deeply interconnected, of course, but OSSTF leaders speaking against divestment refused to comment on the human rights argument.

OSSTF now has an Indigenous land acknowledgement statement to open meetings. As Canadians discover the truth about the history of our country through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we are making these small gestures and beginning the conversation so desperately needed to move forward as a country. If we truly appreciate what this land acknowledgement means, we need to begin to think about what “sharing” the land really means and what Reconciliation really means.

Our economic system and education system are both examples of colonization. Both are imposed systems, assumed to be the only Way, that do not recognize Indigenous ways of being or land rights. In the view of capitalism, First Nations’ rights are just a hindrance to making profit – something to be ignored if one can get away with it. At the recent Ontario Ministry of Education consultation “Deeper Conversations” I recently attended, Ministry representatives framed the education system as one designed to feed our economic system; they repeated the mantra that it is our job as educators to prepare students to be “economically productive”. Residential schools were an extreme manifestation of this principle, since Indigenous Peoples needed to be indoctrinated into this system.

Our governments have failed miserably at keeping promises to First Nations, using the economy as an excuse. Russ Diabo, writer, political analyst and activist of the Kahnawake Mohawk, explains in this post “Justin Trudeau continuing proud Liberal tradition of betraying Indigenous peoples”. The Canadian Government, by continuing to approve dirty energy projects like the Kinder Morgan pipeline and the Liquified Natural Gas project on Lelu Island, is continuing the colonization of Indigenous Peoples. Will ignoring Treaty rights and human rights continue to part of Canada’s history?

I was moved by these words from a piece in the National Observer by Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a member of the Lubicon Cree First Nation in northern Alberta:

“Trump’s Dakota Access pipeline has already come at a terrible price. It’s up to us to hold Trudeau to his promise to honour the Treaties. The spirit of Standing Rock has not diminished; it’s tracking northward as people across Canada act in solidarity with Native Nations Rise, refusing to let attacks on Indigenous people for the sake of oil profits go unnoticed.

These winds of resistance in British Columbia and across Turtle Island should be a signal to our governments and to investors. When we rise, we rise as one. A light breeze becomes an unstoppable gale.”

As one speaker against the motion put it, investments in fossil fuels will eventually be unprofitable and we will no longer invest in them at that point. Does it matter that in the meanwhile we condone this kind of behaviour towards Indigenous Peoples? Do we agree that if there is money to be made, our Internal Investment Fund must make it? We will just wait until the market decides it’s unprofitable, then we will act? This is completely unacceptable to me and hope to many other OSSTF members and Canadians. Let’s get our money out of dirty energy by divesting from fossil fuels. OSSTF has signed the Leap Manifesto. To be sincere, let’s support an economy “based on caring for the Earth and for one other”, as put by the Leap Manifesto. This is only a tiny start to decolonization, but it will be on the right side of history going forward.

NOW Magazine puts the spotlight on the OTPP and divestment

NOW Magazine published an excellent piece about the campaign to divest the OTPP from fossil fuels. The Educators Climate Alliance thanks NOW and Toronto350 for cranking up the heat (figuratively)! Please follow the link to their publication.

Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan faced with growing pressure to divest from fossil fuels” by Adria Vasil

A Call for a Progressive Rebranding of our Union

by Kevin Bowers, ECA member, OSSTF Limestone District 27

The core mandate of unions has always been to protect people from the ravages of a marketplace that often exploits and harms for profit.  Global warming is without a doubt the single most daunting crisis on our shared horizon, and corporations and governments have failed in their roles to mitigate its effects and protect people and other life on this planet.  

Business, corporate and government leaders have spent a lot of Public Relations dollars on undermining the good brand of unions.  The media repeats phrases like ‘union bosses’ and frames unions as ‘special interests’ and ‘job killers’.  In the last decades this attempted union-busting PR strategy has been very effective in undermining unions, and union membership has decreased under this continual assault.

The present political moment offers a perfect opportunity for unions to rebrand themselves by taking on their core responsibility as progressive protectors of people and planet.  There is a void on the left side of our political culture, and unions could be moral leaders in this burgeoning progressive culture.  A fossil fuel divestment campaign would demonstrate the selfless leadership and moral clarity that unions need as both a ‘brand’ and an institution.  A commitment from unions to contribute to fossil fuel divestment would help undermine the PR campaigns that pit union bosses against jobs and the economy, and focus attention on the failures of unchecked capitalism and its essential responsibility for the ecological crisis of climate change.

Divestment isn’t perfect, but it is an acknowledgement of what society must do to keep fossil fuels in the ground.  For a three-minute explanation of carbon budgets, please watch this video.  For a much more detailed illustration of carbon budgets, check out this infographic. (Both are great resources for the Grade 10 Science curriculum.)

Our country and culture are straining to hear reasonable, sane voices that articulate a sustainable, empathetic and humane way forward when it comes to confronting climate change.  Unions have an opportunity to pick up the megaphone and speak for the disenfranchised and ignored.  They have the opportunity to speak truth to power, and to articulate the clear need for people to have a say in their own destiny, and in the health and safety of the planet.   

Will our union take the important first step in rebranding itself as a progressive leader and protector of people by pledging to divest from carbon?