As a student studying a Bachelor of Philosophy in Interdisciplinary Leadership at the University of New Brunswick, I spent the last four semesters exploring leadership in different contexts. I have come to understand leadership as a relationship that involves listening to those you are leading. It is not about some singular great person, or persons, bestowed with magical abilities; leadership is a mutual exchange, relationship, and discourse. Because of this, I have been taught that leadership is attainable, and should be strived for and exemplified within educational systems.
Every university should strive to be seen as a leader: a leader in innovation, in learning, in teaching, and in society. As a student, I have learned to recognize that good leadership at a university requires that students, faculty, staff, and alumni are willing to voice their concerns, and it is the responsibility of the administration to consider their voices. This why positions like the Students Union, Faculty Reps, and others exist.
However, since arriving at UNB, I have noticed repeatedly that the voice of the student body has been ignored. These positions, held by students elected to best represent students, become meaningless when they are ignored.
At the University of New Brunswick, students have repeatedly voiced their concerns with fossil fuel investments. This sentiment has only grown with the recent revitalization of the campaign through my work at UNB Rural Action and Voices for the Environment (RAVEN) project. Both the historical and the current University divestment campaigns have the support of the UNB Students Union and yet the University’s action is slow or non-existent.
As a UNB student, I find it hypocritical that in classes I am taught the impact of fossil fuels on the environment within an institution that profits from this industry. I believe we, as an institution, cannot profit from shares that fund oil, gas, and coal while in turn teaching students that these contribute to global carbon emissions contributing to temperature rises in the atmosphere. Scientists are united in their predictions that if we do not stop funding fossil fuel extraction, it will mean that I, my fellow students, and our children will experience climate chaos in our lifetimes. Where is UNB’s sense of responsibility to its students’ futures?
As of December 31, 2018, UNB’s allocation to the top 200 oil, gas, and coal companies was 3.3%, or $10.9 Million, of the Long-term Investment Fund. That is $10.9 million invested in the industry that contributes to over 70% of global emissions, the industry that continues to decline in financial returns, the industry that has always prioritized quick cash over environmental sustainability. The Fossil Free – UNB (FF-UNB) Campaign is calling for this investment to end. We want our university to be a leader in sustainable investments in Canada. The Orange Square, a facet of this campaign, has signatories of the FF-UNB petition wear orange squares to show their support of fossil fuel divestment at UNB.
Divestment is important for many of reasons. For example, it has been used as a tool to end apartheid in South Africa. While divestment from fossil fuels will not always have a discernible or immediate impact on share prices, the social implication of investing in the fossil fuel industry produces pressure to seek sustainable energy. More immediately, divestment would demonstrate to students that UNB truly cares about our future.
The United Nations Production Gap Report‘s assessment of 10 key countries, including Canada, demonstrated that nearly all the national plans will exceed the 2030 levels necessary to prevent over 1.5C temperature increase in the atmosphere from pre-industrial levels. As emphasized in the International Panel on Climate Change reports, an increase of this amount or more will produce significant climate changes such as mass extinction, higher intensity and frequency of storms, flooding, and droughts, as well as other detrimental impacts. The existing plans for fossil fuel CO2 emissions are more than double those necessary to prevent these changes. Canada’s published energy outlook demonstrates a plan to increase oil production by 30% between 2019 and 2030. Canada is already listed as the 9th top carbon emitter in terms of extraction-based CO2 emissions and these top nine nations alone account for 69% of the global total.
For educational institutions, large or small investments in the fossil fuel industry are no longer ethically justifiable. Not only have we, as a nation, failed to listen to historical warnings of climate change, we have set plans to increase fossil fuel extraction. As an institution, UNB teaches its students that climate change is real, and yet remains heavily invested. We need to see swift and drastic changes to have hope for our futures.
If our University wishes to foster global leaders in the arts and sciences, it must itself be a leader. It is time the University accepts that good leadership comes with difficult decisions and that ignoring the voices of the students, faculty, staff, and alumni who are approaching the University for a second time about divestment is poor leadership. It is time for the University senior administrators to pin an orange square to their jackets and make the necessary moves towards sustainable investments and a sustainable future for us all.
Rachel Bensler is a second-year student at UNB’s Renaissance College, the leader of the Fossil-Free UNB Campaign and part of the RAVEN project team.