2015 Open Letter

Prof. Jamie Cassels
UVic Office of the President

Dr. Erich Mohr, Chair
UVic Board of Governors

Dear President Cassels and Dr. Mohr,

We are writing to pursue our initial call for the University of Victoria’s endowment to divest from fossil fuel companies. Our request is to freeze new investments now, and phase out current investments over the next three years. Both students and faculty have voted in favour of this plan.

The Board of the University of Victoria Foundation, which governs the endowment, has communicated its opposition to divestment, citing financial concerns.[1] And yet the financial case for fossil fuel divestment has only grown stronger since our last communication. Just this past week two different reports were released indicating that large funds like the Canadian Pension Plan have lost billions of dollars by not divesting from fossil fuel companies in 2012, when the divestment campaign was launched.[2] Furthermore these calculations do not factor in the stranded asset theory that underpins the financial case for divestment. Given that only 1/3 of known reserves can be safely burned to avoid catastrophic climate change, and those reserves are already factored into company stock prices, it follows that they will become “stranded” when needed climate legislation comes into force.[3]

According to Arabella Advisors, “The increasing likelihood of near term carbon regulation has created financial risks to portfolios exposed to fossil fuel assets, which has driven exponential growth in divestment.”[4] Fossil fuel free managers and funds are now entering the mainstream.[5] The Toronto Stock Exchange recently launched a fossil fuel free index.[6]

Moreover divestment is not only a financial concern. The fundamental claim animating this global movement has always been a moral one: “If it is wrong to wreck the planet, then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage.” UVic’s fossil fuel investments (which have actually increased over the past 1.5 years) are a moral and reputational concern along with a financial one. We join UVic students in requesting that the Office of the President and Board of Governors weigh the arguments and make a decision regarding divestment. With our moral, reputational, and financial standing on the line, divestment needs careful consideration from more than a small endowment board with no student or faculty representation.

The moral and financial arguments for divestment are rooted in extensive ecological research evidencing the dangers of continuing to extract fossil fuels and invest in fossil fuel infrastructure, including recent studies that link climate change with extreme weather events.[7] A recent paper in Nature notes that 85% of viable reserves in the Albertan tar sands need to stay in the ground in order to avoid surpassing 2 degree warming.[8] And yet UVic continues investing in tar sands companies like Suncor who note in a recent annual report “absolute GHG emissions of our company will continue to rise as we pursue a prudent and planned growth strategy.”[9] There is growing evidence that the entrenched interests of the fossil fuel companies have had a disproportionate effect on public discourse: historically fossil fuel companies have funded the disinformation campaign on climate change or in the widely-circulated case of Exxon, purposely withheld their own scientific evidence of climate change.[10]

Seeking profits from investments in fossil fuel companies is dangerous ecologically, morally, and increasingly on financial grounds. So why is UVic continuing down this path when sustainability, including sustainable investment, is prioritized in our strategic plan?[11] This question must be addressed by the Office of the President and the Board of Governors.

Institutions representing $2.6 trillion in assets have committed to fossil fuel divestment.[12] This is a fifty-fold increase in the total combined assets of those committed to divestment over the past year. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, The Canadian Medical Association, and the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund are examples of the diverse institutions that have committed to divestment. Most recently the University of California sold off $200 million of coal and tar sands investments, noting the need to manage risk.[13] Yet UVic continues to invest in fossil fuel companies in general and tar sand companies in particular. Again, we ask, why?

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which will be overseeing negotiations in Paris in December, has endorsed the divestment strategy.[14] Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres recently challenged universities like ours that have failed to lead: “Academic institutions that are still vested in fossil fuels should ask themselves whether they are in breach of their social responsibility to serve the community, the nation, and the world.”[15] UVic does not appear to be taking seriously Figueres’ challenge. Why in the face of the ecological, moral and financial evidence for divestment does UVic remain invested in the carbon status quo? This is a question that demands a broader airing than it has received so far, especially given the new evidence supporting the financial case.

We join UVic students in respectfully requesting a freeze in new investments now, and a phasing out of current investments over the next three years.

We look forward to hearing your response.

Sincerely,

Department of Anthropology
Peter Stephenson, Professor
Quentin Mackie, Associate Professor
Lisa Gould, Professor
Margo Matwychuk, Assistant Professor
Andrea N. Walsh, Associate Professor
Erin McGuire, Assistant Teaching Professor
Lisa M. Mitchell, Associate Professor

Department of Biology
Rana El-Sabaawi, Assistant Professor
Julia K. Baum, Assistant Professor
Barbara Ehlting, Assistant Teaching Professor

Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology
Francis Nano, Professor

Gustavson School of Business
Ana Maria Peredo, Professor, CCBE
Monika Winn, Professor
Basma Majerbi, Assistant Professor

Department of Chemistry
Alexander Briggs, Assistant Professor

School of Child & Youth Care
Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, Professor
Jessica Ball, Professor
Jin-Sun Yoon, Teaching Professor
Sandrina de Finney, Associate Professor
Scott Kouri, Sessional Instructor
Vanessa Clark, Sessional Instructor
Miriam Curtis, Sessional Instructor
Jennifer White, Associate Professor
Shanne McCaffrey, Assistant Teaching Professor
Doug Magnuson, Associate Professor

Department of Computer Science
George Tzanetakis, Associate Professor
Maarten van Emden, Professor, Emerita

Department of Curriculum & Instruction
Kathy Sanford, Professor
Trish Rosborough, Assistant Professor
Ana Santos, Sessional Instructor
Yesman R. Post, Sessional Instructor
Jason Price, Associate Professor
Michael Emme, Associate Professor
Kate Dubensky, Sessional Instructor
Linda Edworthy, Sessional Instructor

School of Earth and Ocean Sciences
Adam Monahan,Professor
Colin Goldblatt, Assistant Professor
Charles Curry, Adjunct Professor
Kate Moran, Professor

Department of Education
David Monk, Sessional Instructor

Department of Educational Psychology & Leadership
Diana Nicholson, Adjunct Assistant Professor
Carolyn Crippen, Associate Professor

Department of English
Nicole Shukin, Associate Professor
Stephen Ross, Associate Professor
Celeste Derksen, Sessional Instructor
Lisa Chalykoff, Assistant Teaching Professor
Jentery Sayers, Assistant Professor
Richard Pickard, Assistant Teaching Professor
Suzan Last, Sessional Instructor
Brian Day, Sessional Instructor
Sheila Rabillard, Associate Professor
Laura Fanning, Sessional Instructor
Lisa Surridge, Professor
Joel Hawkes, Sessional Instructor
Michael Lukas, Sessional Instructor
Luke Carson, Associate Professor
Nicholas Bradley, Associate Professor

School of Environmental Studies
Jessica Dempsey, Assistant Professor
Karena Shaw, Associate Professor, Director
Nancy J. Turner, Distinguished Professor
Eric Higgs, Professor
John P. Volpe, Associate Professor
James Rowe, Assistant Professor
Natalie Ban, Assistant Professor
Brian Starzomski, Assistant Professor
Trevor Lantz, Assistant Professor
Duncan Taylor, Assistant Professor
Valentin Schaefer, Academic Administrator
Trudi Lynn Smith, Adjunct Assistant Professor
Sarah Marie Wiebe, Sessional Instructor
Brenda Beckwith, Sessional Instructor
Ryan Hilperts, Sessional Instructor

School of Exercise, Science, Physical and Health Education
Greg Mulligan, Sessional Instructor
John Meldrum, Assistant Professor

Department of French
Emily Fromet de Rosnay, Assistant Professor
Helene Cazes, Professor
Marc Lapprand, Professor and Chair

Department of Geography
Cameron Owens, Assistant Teaching Professor
Reuben Rose-Redwood, Associate Professor
Chris T. Darimont, Assistant Professor
Simon Springer, Assistant Professor
Philip Dearden, Professor
Rosaline Canessa, Associate Professor
Michele-Lee Moore, Assistant Professor
Dan Smith, Professor and Chair
Jutta Gutberlet, Associate Professor
Ian Walker, Associate Professor
Trisalyn Nelson, Associate Professor

Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies
Matt Pollard, Assistant Teaching Professor
Elena Pnevmonidou, Assistant Professor
Charlotte Schallié, Assistant Professor

Department of Greek and Roman Studies
Wade Richardson, Adjunct Professor

Department of History
Elizabeth Vibert, Associate Professor
John Lutz, Associate Professor
Andrea McKenzie, Associate Professor
Jill Walshaw, Assistant Professor
Wendy Wickwire, Associate Professor
Gregory Blue, Associate Professor
Jordan Stanger-Ross, Associate Professor
Paul Wood, Professor
Rachel Cleves, Associate Professor
Simon Devereaux, Associate Professor
Lynne Marks, Associate Professor

Department of Hispanic and Italian Studies
Daniela Lorenzi, Assistant Teaching Professor
Beatriz de Alba-Koch, Associate Professor

Department of History in Art
Lianne McLarty, Associate Professor
Victoria Wyatt, Associate Professor

Indigenous Governance Program
Jeff Corntassel, Associate Professor
Christine O’Bonsawin, Assistant Professor

Faculty of Law
Rebecca Johnson, Professor
Michael M’Gonigle, Professor
Freya Kodar, Associate Professor
Hester Lessard, Professor
J. Donald C. Galloway, Professor
Maneesha Deckha, Associate Professor
Deborah Curran, Professor
Chris Tollefson, Professor
Hamar Foster, Professor
Jane Henderson, Professor

Department of Linguistics
Sonya Bird, Associate Professor
Alexandra D’Arcy, Associate Professor
Suzanne Urbanczyk, Associate Professor
Sandra Kirkham, Continuing Sessional Instructor
Susan Gessner, Adjunct Professor

Department of Mathematics and Satistics
Florin Diacu, Professor
Margaret Wyeth, Assistant Teaching Professor

Division of Medical Sciences

Jane Gair, Assistant Teaching Professor
Joana Gil-Mohapel, Assistant Teaching Professor

Department of Mechanical Engineering
Curran Crawford, Associate Professor
Rustom Bhiladvala, Assistant Professor
Colin Bradley, Professor

School of Music
Christopher Butterfield, Associate Professor
Michelle Mares, Music Instructor
Alexandra Dawkins, Associate Professor
Suzanne Snizek, Visiting Assistant Professor
Lanny Pollet, Professor Emeritus
Benjamin Butterfield, Associate Professor

School of Nursing
Carolyn Hammond, Sessional Instructor
Gerrit Clements, Adjunct Professor
Marg Lachmuth, Sessional Instructor
Bernie Pauly, Associate Professor

Department of Pacific Asian Studies
Daromir Rudnyckyj, Associate Professor
Martin Adam, Director, Religious Studies Program
Michael Bodden, Professor

Department of Philosophy
Colin Macleod, Associate Professor
Margaret Cameron, Canada Research Chair
Klaus Jahn, Assistant Teaching Professor
Scott Woodcock, Associate Professor
James O.Young, Professor
Angus Taylor, Lecturer

Department of Physics and Astronomy
Chris Pritchet, Professor
Kim Venn, Associate Professor
Falk Herwig, Associate Professor
Andrew Jirasek, Associate Professor
Dean Karlen, Professor
Michel Lefebvre, Professor
Jon Willis, Associate Professor

Department of Political Science
James Lawson, Associate Professor
R.B.J. Walker, Professor
James Tully, Distinguished Professor
Scott Watson, Associate Professor
Warren Magnusson, Professor
Rita Dhamoon, Assistant Professor
Oliver Schmidtke, Professor
Marlea Clarke, Assistant Professor
Arthur Kroker, Canada Research Chair in Technology, Culture and Theory
Feng Xu, Associate Professor
Avigail Eisenberg, Professor
Matt James, Associate Professor
Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark, Assistant Professor
Simon Glezos, Assistant Professor

Department of Psychology
Robert Gifford, Professor
Frederick Grouzet, Associate Professor
Ulrich Mueller, Professor
Scott M. Hofer, Professor

School of Public Administration
Lynda Gagne, Assistant Professor
Budd Hall, Professor
Kimberly Speers, Assistant Teaching Prof
Rod Dobell, Professor Emeritus
Tara Ney, Associate Professor

School of Public Health and Social Policy
Trevor Hancock, Professor & Senior Scholar
Michael Hayes, Director and Professor
Brenda Canitz, Adjunct Professor

School of Social Work
Catherine Richardson, Associate Professor
Donna Jeffery, Associate Professor
Yvonne Haist, Assistant Teaching Professor
Gayle Ployer, Assistant Teaching Professor

Department of Sociology
William K. Carroll, Professor
Simon Carroll, Sessional Instructor
Steve Garlick, Associate Professor
Martha McMahon, Associate Professor
Peyman Vahabzadeh, Associate Professor
Bruce Ravelli, Assistant Teaching Professor
Min Zhou, Assistant Professor
David Huxtable, Sessional Lecturer

Department of Theatre
Conrad Alexandrowicz, Associate Professor

Department of Visual Arts
Lynda Gammon, Associate Professor
Sandra Meigs, Professor
Megan Dickie, Continuing Sessional

Department of Women’s Studies
Laura Parisi, Associate Professor
Christine St. Peter, Professor Emerita
Annalee Lepp, Chair and Associate Professor
Christine Welsh, Associate Professor
Thea Cacchioni, Assistant Professor
Jo-Anne Lee, Associate Professor

Department of Writing
Kevin Kerr, Assistant Professor
David Leach, Associate Professor
Lynne Van Luven, Associate Professor
Marita Dachsel, Sessional Instructor
Patrick Friesen, Sessional Teacher

[1] See https://www.uvic.ca/universitysecretary/otherbodies/foundations/governance/index.php
[2] See news coverage of report at http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/corporate-knights-fossil-fuel-divestment-1.3321265, review underlying research athttp://www.corporateknights.com/channels/responsible-investing/fossil-fuel-investments-cost-major-funds-billions-14476536/. See also Lee, M. and J. Ritchie, J. 2015. Pension Funds and Fossil Fuels: The Ethical Case For Divestment. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Available athttps://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/National%20Office%2C%20BC%20Office/2015/11/Pension_Funds_and_Fossil_Fuels.pdf
[3] For more information see for example Clark, P. 2015. Carney on climate: Stranded fossil fuel theory proves potent. Financial Times September 30. Available at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/97ba13d4-6772-11e5-97d0-1456a776a4f5.html#axzz3r9GaDu00.
[4] Arabella Advisors. 2015. Measuring the Growth of the Global Fossil Fuel
Divestment and Clean Energy Investment Movement. Available at
http://www.arabellaadvisors.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Measuring-the-Growth-of-the-Divestment-Movement.pdf
[5] See for example Genus Capital Fund http://genuscap.com/fossilfree/divesting-in-canada-where-to-draw-the-fossil-fuel-line/ and VanCity Fossil Free Mutual Fundhttp://cleantechnica.com/2015/07/21/fossil-fuel-free-funds-come-to-canada/
[6] For more information see http://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/three-new-climate-change-index-series-launched-by-sp-dow-jones-indices-and-toronto-stock-exchange-538268551.html
[7] On the links between extreme weather and climate change see Herring et al. 2015. Explaining Extreme Events of 2014 from a Climate Perspective. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc. 96 (12), S1–S172. To summarize the most recent climate science in general, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has unambiguously established that burning coal, oil and gas since the industrial revolution has led to an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, which in turn is causing and will continue to cause climatic change and ocean acidification. The rise in carbon dioxide concentrations from 260 parts per million (ppm) before the industrial revolution to 400 ppm now places us at a carbon dioxide level unseen for 4 million years – since before humans evolved. Under any “business as usual” scenario, there will be more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than there has been for tens of millions of years. Moreover, the rate of change is extraordinary. To quote the IPCC report AR5 Summary for Policy Makers (2014), “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions” (8). The IPCC report is clear in stating that adverse consequences of climate change will be felt in our lifetimes and our children’s lifetimes if profound efforts to abate fossil fuel emissions are not made, with consequent human, economic and environmental loss. As the report states, some of these changes will be irreversible. Furthermore, the risks are unevenly distributed, and already disadvantaged communities will suffer most. The full report is available at http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/AR5_SYR_FINAL_SPM.pdf
[8] McGlade, C. and P. Ekins. 2015. The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2 °C. Nature 517:187–190.
[9] See Suncor annual report at http://www.suncor.com/pdf/Suncor_Annual_Report_2013_en.pdf
[10] On the first point, see Brulle, R.J. 2014. Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations. Climatic Change 122(4): 681-694. On the second point see Oreskes, N. 2015. Exxon’s Climate Concealment. New York Times 9 October. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/10/opinion/exxons-climate-concealment.html
[11] University of Victoria. 2012. A Vision for the Future- Building on Excellence: A Strategic Plan for the University of Victoria. Available at http://www.uvic.ca/strategicplan/assets/docs/strategicplan.pdf
[12]Arabella Advisors. 2015. Measuring the Growth of the Global Fossil Fuel
Divestment and Clean Energy Investment Movement. Available at
http://www.arabellaadvisors.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Measuring-the-Growth-of-the-Divestment-Movement.pdf.
[13] Howard, E. 2015. California University divests $200m from coal and tar sands holdings. The Guardian September 10. Available at http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/sep/10/california-university-divests-200m-from-coal-and-tar-sands-holdings
[14] For more information see Carrington, D. 2015. Climate change: UN backs fossil fuel divestment campaign. The Guardian March 15. Available athttp://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/15/climate-change-un-backs-divestment-campaign-paris-summit-fossil-fuels
[15] Quoted in Yeo, S. 2014. Calderon dismisses ‘false’ choice between climate and economy. Climate Home April 17. Available at http://www.climatechangenews.com/2014/04/17/calderon-dismisses-false-choice-between-climate-and-economy/

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