By: Luke Faulks, Staff Writer
350 parts per million (ppm). Scientists suggest this is the maximum number of carbon dioxide particles that should be in the atmosphere. To prevent the earth from reaching several irreversible tipping points that would hasten and worsen climate change, the planet has to keep below 350 ppm. In 2020, the planet reached 412.5ppm.
It doesn’t have to stay that way. 350ppm is a goal — a target that energizes SFU350.
Since 2013, SFU350 has been pushing for climate action on campus. The group is related to the international climate movement, 350.org, founded in the US in 2008. For eight years, SFU350 has been working to get students and faculty engaged in more meaningful climate action. One of the group’s central goals has been to get SFU to divest carbon-intensive holdings in its investment portfolio. In 2016 and 2019, the group achieved victories, with the university agreeing to partial divestments. In 2016, then-SFU president Andrew Petter cited student advocacy as driving partial divestment, highlighting SFU350’s advocacy.
The group also works to raise awareness of the climatic, social, and health consequences of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion. SFU350’s “Justice, No Pipeline” committee has an open letter addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The letter has been signed by professors, students, and “13 student unions representing 180,000+ students” from around Canada and the US.
2021 saw a string of rapid successes for SFU350. The Fall semester return to campus saw an awareness-raising mural, an anti-TMX march, a climate emergency declaration campaign, and a commitment from SFU to full divestment by 2025.
The mural, in particular, set off a firestorm about student protests on campus, with the university threatening the students involved with charges of misconduct. The mural depicted a melting earth and called for SFU to adopt more aggressive climate targets. While the mural was ultimately removed without students facing any disciplinary repercussions, co-president Abigail Herd said the club’s spate of events led to a “huge uptick in interest.” Last semester, around 50 students signed on as members.
SFU350 members are aware of the monumental task ahead. WeiChun Kua, a member of SFU350 and the anti-TMX Campaign, said SFU350 offers hope in the form of “seeing young people come together” on a common cause, particularly with young people vying for institutional change. The group’s reach, which stretches from other groups on campus to groups around BC to climate-oriented groups around North America, provides more of the same comfort.
That’s not to say the group is always at work. Last year’s high-profile victories created an opportunity for celebration. This year, the group is planning on attending an art show by the artist who designed last semester’s mural, Jess Stanley. Herd said part of avoiding climate despair is taking the time to “celebrate the wins.”
Thanks in part to eight years of lobbying from the group, SFU acknowledged the climate emergency and agreed to full divestment by 2025. In a Board of Governors meeting on January 27, SFU officially declared that we are in a “climate emergency.”
In November 2021, a month after SFU committed to divestment, SFU350 partnered with Climate Justice UBC and Divest UVic to lobby their respective universities to fill out their investment portfolios with climate-conscious investments.
The new group pushes for universities to “move 10% of their respective endowments and working capital funds — totalling more than $500 million — into community investments to support a vibrant and sustainable local economy.” It’s the next step for SFU350 and a great jumping-on point for new members.
SFU350’s Linktree also lays out a few next steps interested parties can take, including registering for a webinar series on divestment the group has been invited to speak at, and a chance to join the Community Reinvestment Campaign. You can also sign on to their climate emergency declaration open letter.
When it comes to membership, SFU350 says the more the merrier! New members are welcome anytime because the “work is continuous.” They added, “It doesn’t matter what faculty you are, what year you’re in, or how old you are. We need everyone.”
Due to COVID-19, meetings occur primarily on Zoom. SFU350 is also available on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Discussions take place mainly over the club’s Slack workspace. Students interested in signing on can email SFU350 (firstname.lastname@example.org) to be added.
The earth doesn’t have to stay at 412.5ppm. 350ppm is still within reach. If you’re looking for a way to get involved in fighting for 350ppm by pushing for comprehensive climate action, working within a supportive community that understands the rigours of growing up in a warming world, and reminding powerful institutions of their obligations, SFU350 is a great place to start.