The Most Talked About Motions at AMPA: Climate Action + Divestment

by Andrea Loken, science Teacher and ECA co-founder

(You can sign our petition here.)

Of the four motions that Educators Climate Alliance submitted to last weekend’s Annual Meeting of the Provincial Assembly of OSSTF (AMPA), only one “hit the floor.” The motion was not passed, but the Education Climate Alliance can be proud that we pushed the conversation to the front of people’s minds. One campaign insider told me that the ECA motions were the most talked about motions at AMPA. The climate change conversations have started, and I am proud and happy that both our members and leadership are seriously contemplating climate change.

The Provincial Executive (PE) responded to our motions by tabling alternative motions that passed resoundingly. Although the Educators Climate Alliance is thrilled to have started this conversation, the alternative motions are not nearly ambitious enough in relation to the size and importance of the climate issue. It remains clear that our members and our leadership need to internalize just how urgent this matter is. As Naomi Klein puts it regarding the climate emergency, “We need to stop looking away.”

The ECA knows that teachers and educational workers care deeply about their students and will not stand by as our carbon investments directly undermine their future. Educators and their unions need to demonstrate moral leadership on this issue. The fact that the alternative motions passed resoundingly suggests that there is momentum and a hunger for greater change. The three motions that passed fall far short of our goal for a divestment work group and divestment of our internal funds, but we recognize them as important first steps:

The three resolutions were:

  • Moved that Account 4147 be increased by $5 000 to fund membership in the Climate Action Network Canada.
  • Moved that AMPA direct the Communications and Political Action Committee and Environmental Advisory Work Group to provide recommendations to the Provincial Executive on a comprehensive strategy to achieve a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Recommendations for the strategy will focus on how to educate members about the issue and how to mobilize members toward political action to achieve legislation and regulatory changes that will reduce emissions. The Provincial Executive will submit a report to AMPA 2016 on how to best educate and mobilize members.
  • Moved that AMPA direct the Communications and Political Action Committee and Environmental Advisory Work Group to provide recommendations to the Provincial Executive for a submission to the ministry of the Environment and Climate Change 2015 Climate Change Discussion consultation process.

In the coming days we will blog answers to the following questions raised at AMPA:

  1. I don’t want to do anything that will put our pensions at risk. Will divestment from fossil fuels put our pensions at risk?
  2. I agree that we need to do something to address climate change, but why did you choose the divestment strategy which arguably won’t hurt the fossil fuels companies?
  3. Why did you choose to target only the corporations on The Carbon Underground 200 list and not all fossil fuel companies?
  4. Is adopting a divestment plan even possible when our pension board has a fiduciary duty to its members?‎

Great Documentaries for March Break

By Andrea Loken, science teacher and ECA co-founder

Here is a short list of some of my favourite documentaries related to climate change and the fossil fuel industry. Enjoy!

  1. Chasing Ice – 75 min – 2012 [on Netflix] – A visually stunning and totally inspiring chronicle of nature photographer James Balog’s epic “Extreme Ice Survey”. A gorgeous fusion of art and science.
  2. Disruption – 52 min – 2014 [watch and download for free or watch on YouTube] – Totally inspiring, but also challenging. From the website: “Through a relentless investigation to find the answer, Disruption takes an unflinching look at the devastating consequences of our inaction.”
  3. Do The Math – 42 min – 2013 [free] – The trailer is found at the link.  Also found here. This is a perfect primer for the “Three Scary Numbers” of climate science. It’s great for the SNC2D unit on Climate Change.
  4. Green World Rising – new series – From the website: “Green World Rising is a series of short films on solutions to climate change. The series is narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, directed by Leila Conners, presented by Thom Hartmann and produced by Mathew Schmid, George DiCaprio, Earl Katz and Roee Sharon Peled.”
  5. Years of Living Dangerously – 2014 – 9 part series [Ep 1 is free] – Produced for Showtime by James Cameron, Jerry Weintraub and Arnold Schwarzenegger, this tells many stories about the devastating impacts of climate change on people right now.
  6. Gasland – 103 min – 2010 – Isn’t natural gas better than coal and oil? This documentary might blow your mind if you don’t know about “fracking”. Josh Fox exposes the many secrets and lies required for this industry to exist as he travels across the USA to get some answers. Very eye-opening. Also, watch it here. Or here.
  7. White Water, Black Gold – 57 min – 2012 – Canadian – Also, watch on TVO. I use this in my science curriculum all the time. From the website: “an investigative point-of-view documentary that follows David Lavallee on his three-year journey across western Canada in search of answers about the activities of the world’s thirstiest oil industry: the Tarsands. As a mountaineer and hiking guide, David is on the front lines of climate change. Over the past 15 years he has worked in the Columbia Icefields of the Canadian Rockies, and has noticed profound changes in the mountains: climate change is rendering these landscapes unrecognizable.”
  8. Mission Blue – 94 min – 2014 [on Netflix] – This is a gorgeous and compelling story documenting the work of trailblazer and oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle. The oceans are dying. She is on at mission to save them. “No ocean, no life. No ocean, no us.” Just watching the trailer gives me a lump in my throat.
  9. Occupy Love – 85 min – 2014 – I haven’t seen this film, but it’s on the top of my list! From the website: “Join acclaimed director Velcrow Ripper (Scared Sacred, Fierce Light) on a journey deep inside the revolution of the heart that is erupting around the planet, as he asks the question, “How could the crisis we are facing become a love story?””

Three Scary Numbers: A Lesson Plan

“Every now and then an article comes along that takes such a novel approach to an issue, I feel like I’m seeing something with new eyes. Such was the case when I read Bill McKibben’s 2012 Rolling Stone article, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.” It made me see our climate predicament with such clarity that I knew immediately I had to figure out how to turn this article into curriculum.”

Here is a 3 min video summarizing the three numbers.

Reject the status quo arguments: divestment movement is necessary

On fiduciary duty: “It is not acceptable for fund managers to hide behind their apparent duty to a narrow group of clients as an excuse for not considering the future stability of human society.”

Must read! Keep fossil fuels in the ground to stop climate change

George Monbiot: “Money is certainly a problem, but not necessarily for the reasons Obama suggested. The bigger issue is the bankrolling of politics by big oil and big coal, and the tremendous lobbying power they purchase. These companies have, in the past, financed wars to protect their position; they will not surrender the bulk of their reserves without a monumental fight. This fight would test the very limits of state power; I wonder whether our nominal democracies would survive it. Fossil fuel companies have become glutted on silence: their power has grown as a result of numberless failures to challenge and expose them. It’s no wonder that the manicured negotiators at the UN conferences, so careful never to break a nail, have spent so long avoiding the issue.”

Top 200 fossil fuel companies

On the “Fossil Free Indexes: The Carbon Underground 2015” website, it states:

“The Carbon Underground 200 identifies the top 100 public coal companies globally and the top 100 public oil and gas companies globally, ranked by the potential carbon emissions content of their reported reserves. The reserves of these companies total 555 gigatons (Gt) of potential CO2 emissions, almost five times more than can be burned for the world to have an 80% chance of limiting global temperature rise to 2°C (3.6° F).”

Find ‘The Carbon Underground 200’ here under the tab ‘Rankings’:


What is the point of divestment?

Many people make the argument against divestment that it will not succeed in harming the fossil fuel companies because others will invest.

The point of divestment is not to financially harm these massive corporations. (As things begin to get much hotter, financial harm will eventually occur by what world economic experts call the “carbon bubble”.) The point of divestment is to morally tarnish fossil fuel interests and shift the paradigm to a clean energy future that is actually sustainable. OTPP already subscribes to the UN’s “Principles of Responsible Investment”. The OTPP should now sign on to the UN’s “Portfolio Decarbonization Coalition”. This will signal the Plan’s intent to lead the way, as one of the most successful institutional funds in the world, to a saner, more livable world for all – and to a more solid financial future for its members. We want OMERS to do the same.

The ECA believes we will have a MORE successful pension fund by divesting, but we cannot look our children in the eye and say that we are not willing to take any financial risks to have an Earth that supports life. We have a decade to get off fossil fuels. Maybe less. It is just that simple. Let’s act.