The University of New Brunswick (UNB) research project RAVEN (Rural Action and Voices for the Environment) is asking all UNB alumni and everyone affiliated with UNB to join Fossil-Free UNB: The Orange Square Campaign, to contribute to meaningful resistance to the climate crisis.
The Orange Square campaign is building on an earlier fossil fuel divestment effort at UNB. As reported by the NB Media Co-op in August, UNB student Richelle Martin in 2013 launched a campaign focused on a petition for the university to divest its endowment holdings from fossil fuels. The petition had hundreds of signatories and was endorsed by the UNB Student Union but the UNB administration did not divest from fossil fuels.
The international organization that tracks the sustainability of universities has given UNB a poor rating. The latest UNB report on their website related to “sustainable investment” gives the university a score of 0.46 out of 4. UNB has indicated on the site that it does not wish to pursue positive sustainability investment.
Working in partnership with fellow student and faculty activists at St. Thomas University (STU) the UNB Fossil-Free UNB (FFUNB) campaign goal is to make UNB divest its investments in the fossil fuel industry and invest in other environmentally sustainable industries.
The campaign was launched on September 20 at the Fridays for Future Climate Strike on the UNB campus that followed RAVEN’s Poetry for the Climate Crisis event. The Orange Square petition received almost 200 signatures in that one afternoon alone. The climate strike at UNB was held on the same day as 2,500 other climate strikes in more than 163 countries on all seven continents.
The petition is available for viewing online at https://raven-research.org/fossil-free-unb/, and RAVEN encourages all UNB faculty, students, staff, alumni and retired UNB people to contact firstname.lastname@example.org to add their name to the signatories listed online. The petition is also available to sign on the door of the RAVEN project office, #354 Marshall D’Avray Hall (Education Building) on the UNB campus.
The Orange Square, a representation of support for fossil fuel divestment at UNB, is a small felt square and pin that students, staff, faculty and alumni can place in visible areas (backpacks, coat lapels, sweaters, and etc.) to show their support for FFUNB. The orange squares will be available at RAVEN events and associated climate crisis events on UNB and STU campuses and around Fredericton.
Fossil fuel divestment is FFUNB’s strategy to fight the climate crisis because it is a means for a small group of activists to financially impact fossil fuel companies, the largest contributors to climate change. In 2017, energy production alone accounted for 72% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Fossil fuel divestment has proven to be effective globally as well, with more than $11 trillion in divestments from more than 1,115 organizations. Further commitments come from at least 48 countries, with 70% from outside of the United States.
Dr. Susan O’Donnell, a researcher, adjunct professor in Sociology at UNB, and RAVEN’s primary investigator said that climate activists should hold the institutions they are associated with responsible to have an ethical financial portfolio. To support climate action, yet work and study within an organization which contributes to the climate crisis seems disingenuous.
“There was this disconnect, and we realized that our activism had to be consistent with our associations, and we had a responsibility to try our best to get UNB, the university we represent, to divest from fossil fuels,” said O’Donnell.
Rachel Bensler, UNB’s student lead on the Orange Square Project, said that students at UNB want to know whether their financial contributions to the university are being used responsibly.
“We pour thousands of dollars into these institutions and we care about where that money goes. Right now, we don’t know where the money is going or how much of it is going to the fossil fuel industry,” said Bensler.
With a generation that is more connected and globalized than ever, students are standing up with young people around the globe. “Youth are fighting for their own futures, and our generation is becoming increasingly aware and empathetic to this issue,” said Bensler.
Hannah Moore, STU’s student lead on the Orange Square Project, said that her fellow students at St. Thomas are well aware of the climate crisis and the harm it causes disproportionately to those in developing countries.
“A lot of students are very passionate about climate change as well because they can see the injustice of people suffering while other people benefit economically. The people who will be most affected by climate change are the ones benefiting the least from fossil fuel development,” said Moore.
However, Dr. O’Donnell notes that the burden of fighting the climate crisis should not be, and will not be solely on young people. RAVEN itself is an example that older generations are well aware of the impacts of the climate crisis.
“Why is it that students have to lead this campaign, and why can’t we support them as faculty and do funded research projects to help?” said O’Donnell.
Collaboration is truly what is necessary to tackle an issue as large and complex as the climate crisis, even in the Fredericton region. This means collaboration between generations and the community, and this is why the Orange Square Campaign is working both on UNB and STU campus.
“By having UNB and STU working collaboratively, it shows the mobilisation of students, staff and faculty in a greater number and puts more pressure on both administrations to divest to cleaner industries. A lot of people are trying to combat the climate crisis, so it’s better if we’re organized and communicating together instead of working towards the same goals separately,” said Moore.
Critics of the effectiveness of fossil fuel divestment may be pointed to its rapid growth globally from $50 billion in 2011 to the current $11 trillion, and there are strong financial incentives to divest from fossil fuels.
Fossil fuel is a volatile and risky asset: competitive alternatives, increasing regulations, lower oil prices, an uncertain regulatory trajectory and a rapid decline of renewable energy prices are all making the industry less profitable.
“Fossil fuels are on their way out, everyone understands that. The question is, how fast is that going to happen?” said O’Donnell.
Heading into the 2019 election, climate change is ranked by CBC and the Huffington Post as the third most important issue affecting Canadians’ votes. Behind only cost of living and healthcare as top issues, this is the most prominence the climate crisis has ever had nationally.
The time to act is now, and it’s time for UNB to get on the right side of history.
Patrick Donovan is a UNB student in the Bachelor of Arts Honours History & Minor Political Science programs.