Annie Bérubé (left), Jonathan Rausseo, Robert Gorman, Heather Hachigian, Mischa Voloaca, and Deirdre Laframboise. Photo: Courtesy of the University of Ottawa.
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Panelists discuss divestment before U of O decision made in April

The University of Ottawa’s Board of Governors (BOG) hosted an on-campus conference on environmental challenges facing universities across Canada on March 21 focusing on climate solutions, lowering emissions, and the economics of divestment. This event comes as the BOG is set to provide a verdict on April 22 as to whether it will divest from fossil fuels.

The conference, titled Addressing Global Warming, took place at the Faculty of Social Sciences building on campus on March 21, and welcomed panelists who spoke on the U of O’s role in combatting global warming, climate solutions for Canada, and divestment in Canadian universities.

The first panel featured Deirdre Laframboise, executive director of the Canadian Climate Forum, Mischa Voloaca, a PhD student in experimental psychology and a member of Fossil Free uOttawa, Heather Hachigian, a research associate at the Carleton Centre for Community Innovation, Robert Gorman, an expert in investment recently retired from TD Wealth, Jonathan Rausseo, the U of O’s sustainable development manager, and Annie Bérubé, Green Budget Coalition manager at Nature Canada.

This group discussed the pros and cons of divestment, along with the solutions taken in the last few decades by the U of O to reduce emissions and be more environmentally friendly.

The panelists told the audience that divestment was not just an economic strategy, but a decision that would have huge social and political impacts on Canadians and on the international community.

In his opening statement, Voloaca pointed out that engaging in divestment would send out an important message to governments on the university’s commitment to reducing its emissions.

“One aim of divestment is to shine a light on the influence of the fossil fuel industry on governments and on the public understanding of climate science,” he said.

Climate solutions were discussed in the second panel which featured Matthew Paterson, professor of political studies at the U of O, Stewart Elgie, director of the Sustainable Prosperity initiative, Handan Tezel, a professor of the U of O’s Faculty of Engineering, and Nathalie Chalifour, co-director of the Centre for Environmental Law and Global Sustainability.

The second group spoke about divestment as a political issue, and the complexity involved in engaging in the practice.

“Nobody claims that divestment will save everything,” said Paterson. But, as he argued, taking steps toward divestment would be a leap toward a change in environmental policies. Although the impact would not be immediate, divestment would set us on the right track.

The panelists also discussed the economics involved in divestment, and how in order for the university to divest, it must change the mentality of the consumer so as to decrease the demand in fossil fuel.

“The age of oil will end by choking off demand, not by choking off supply,” said Elgie as he explained that only when demand for oil drops would people be open to alternative energy sources and more comfortable with the idea of no longer investing in fossil fuels.

The third and final panel of the conference was organized by the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO). It assembled Daniel Calley Dahoux, a member of Fossil Free uOttawa, Kristen Perry, Divest McGill organizer, Chloe Rockarts, campaigns organizer at the SFUO, David Rynas, a U of O engineering graduate, and Jessica Forest, a biology professor at the U of O, to talk about the road to fossil fuel divestment in Canadian universities.

The experts mostly discussed the importance of divestment and the key role universities have in promoting environmental initiatives.

“It’s an absolute imperative that uOttawa fully divest to set a precedent for other universities and institutions to do the same,” said Rhynas.

Perry said there are moral factors behind reducing our consumption of fossil fuels. “Divestment,” she said “is really about climate justice.”

The conference ended on a positive note with the panelists discussing initiatives that have already been taken by several Canadian universities, such as McGill and York University. April will be an important month for the University of Ottawa’s environmental policies. Luckily, the conference opened the floor for some serious discussion before any decision regarding divestment is made.