It’s now been two months since the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, and the heat is on for world governments to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050. Since then, we’ve had a historically mild winter. Outdoor hockey has been at an all-time low, T-shirts were worn on Christmas and I would hazard to guess that the number of snowball fights in schools has dropped this year. Is this a coincidence? Probably, but the scientific evidence nonetheless suggests a bleak climate future that needs to be addressed immediately.
A general commitment to limiting a global temperature increase is the easy part. The hard part is figuring out effective ways to fight climate change.
Divest Waterloo represents one approach, and is gaining traction in the region. The organization advocates for people to divest their pensions, investments and wealth away from the fossil fuel industry. CBC reported last month that 63 faculty members of the University of Waterloo have written a letter to their board of governors to divest their pension funds away from the fossil fuel industry.
“Divestment is a way to get people involved who may not normally be comfortable with climate change action,” says Laura Hamilton of Divest Waterloo.
The rationale for divesting is a practical one.
“Talking about money gets people’s attention,” Hamilton says.
Now that a commitment has been set by world leaders to limit temperature increases, Divest Waterloo argues, investing in fossil fuels is no longer a stable financial choice.
“If you look at fossil fuels, there are five times more in the ground than we can ever burn,” says Hamilton, and these companies will want to do what they can to make sure as much oil is burned as possible. Divesting from these companies would make their existence financially unviable.
The organization began as a committee out of Parkminster United Church in Waterloo. They decided that the impacts of climate change were the most important issue facing the planet.
“It’s not only more expensive to invest in fossil fuels, it’s a justice issue,” says Hamilton, and it was “incumbent upon those that had financial resources to take action.”
Hamilton is quick to point out that divestment is one type of action, and that effectively combating climate change requires deeper changes in our systems and ways of thinking. She and her organization support anyone who is working to fight climate change.
A different approach, which has received relatively less media attention, is direct action. For example, different groups have shut down the Line 7 and 9 Enbridge pipelines in southern Ontario and beyond.
The Council for Canadians reported that three “land defenders” were arrested on December 21 after turning off a manual valve wheel to shut down the pipeline, which carries 300,000 barrels of oil per day.
Those protesters were unable to speak because of ongoing legal proceedings, but I did connect with Trish Mills, who has been involved in anti-pipeline organizing for four years. Mills has organized resistance to climate change by participating in discussions and forums and direct actions against pipeline development. She has been arrested, charged and sentenced in two of those direct actions.
The rationale for direct action is practical because, according to Mills, shutdowns not only raise awareness, but also cost companies millions and can make pipeline projects financially and physically unviable.
These actions are illegal, but as Mills says “I think it’s important to encourage people to look beyond this very narrow scope and start doing and supporting what they think is the right thing to do… Historically, things like the holocaust, segregation and internment were legal, but that certainly doesn’t mean they were right.”
Mills continued to explain that “today those of us who take direct action are trying to protect communities, people, animals, land and water. We’re fighting for things that are intentionally not being protected by industry and government. There is no better time than now to start actively resisting the systems and industries that are destroying us, and this world.”
Regardless of the approach, it’s clear that confronting the fossil fuel industry is at the heart of the strategic logic behind both divestment and direct action. From an economic standpoint, however, the playing field is not equal. Enbridge owns $62.1 billion in assets and last year reported a $629 million profit. To think that they will go down without a fight would be naïve.
But there is a fight happening in southern Ontario, and as Mills emphasized to me, “I have no intention of stopping.” There are many others like her.
PHOTO COURTESY Creative Commons