Community members call on SFU to take action against climate change

SFU350 holds panel to discuss divesting from fossil fuels, centering marginalized voices, and institutional action

A protest, with a central sign reading
PHOTO: Li-An Lim / Unsplash

By: Karissa Ketter, News Writer

SFU350 held a community panel on September 23, 2021 to discuss the importance of declaring a climate emergency and divesting from fossil fuels. The panel included SFSS vice-president of equity and sustainability Marie Haddad, GSS director of external relations Ruben Munoz, professor of mathematics Dr. Nilima Nigam, and chancellor at SFU Dr. Tamara Vrooman. Sonia Furstenau, leader of the BC Green Party. was the keynote speaker. 

SFU350 is a student-led club calling on SFU to divest from fossil fuels through a Climate Emergency Declaration Open Letter. The letter addresses seven demands that include decarbonization, divestment from fossil fuels, raising awareness, creating an SFU climate hub, climate justice, education, and discovering next steps. 

Vrooman noted during the panel “the one [demand] that speaks most to me is climate justice [ . . . ] If we are to think about a just transition, we must think about how it impacts those who don’t have the same privilege, decision making ability, and authority that we do.

“If it isn’t sustainable from an inclusive point of view, and if it’s not focused on the well-being of those who don’t have the same power to make decisions as we go forward but suffer the most at the hands of those decisions, it won’t be a sustainable solution.” 

Haddad agreed people in the community are being impacted by climate change every day. “We need to centre the most marginalized individuals who are being harmed, and amplify Indigenous folks [and] honour Indigenous sovereignty. The small steps to doing that [are] what’s outlined in the letter.”

Sonia Furstenau met with students at SFU for a meet and greet earlier that afternoon. She recorded opening remarks for the event which were played during the panel. “We know that the impacts of climate change are going to become increasingly severe, increasingly chaotic, and increasingly problematic. What we’ve seen decade over decade is a failure of leadership,” said Furstenau. 

Vrooman noted part of working towards divestment is being transparent about SFU’s actions so other institutions can interact with them. “It doesn’t matter if only SFU [divests from fossil fuels] if others don’t. So being transparent about the decisions we make gives confidence, information and insight to other institutional actors.

“When we talk about climate, we often talk about it being in opposition to doing the right thing for the economy, but it’s actually not. Time and time again, when we invest in things that are the future of our planet and our kids, chances are we future-proof and de-risk those investments.” 

Munoz discussed how climate change has affected him personally. He noted he comes from Colombia and remembers how the droughts affected the agricultural sector he worked in, which in turn became an economic problem. “I think about those people that did not have those resources, that cannot recuperate as easily as we did.

“It’s [interesting] to see how the Canadian government keeps promoting exploiting oil and keeps funding activities based on the exploitation of oil rather than making the switch,” said Munoz. Other Canadian institutions are switching to clean energy and divesting from fossil fuels but Munoz expressed his frustration at the government for their lack of action. “Even though foreigners and citizens are doing our part, [SFU is] not adding enough pressure for actual change.”

“The time for SFU to continue greenwashing is finished,” said Nigam. “It’s time that we declare the obvious, that we are in the middle of a climate emergency.”