Grassroots campaigns are underway globally urging investors to sell holdings in oil, gas and coal companies to help fight climate change.
Campuses, especially in North America, have proved fertile ground for these fossil fuel divestment movements. The University of Victoria (UVic), nestled in its spectacular West Coast location, is no exception.
Last month, Steve Douglas, Suncor’s vice president, Investor Relations, visited UVic and took part in a Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions panel discussion about climate change, divestment and society.
This week, we asked Steve to describe his experience. We thank him for taking time to answer our questions.
What are key takeaways from talking about divestment with university students?
There’s a lot of passion. It impressed me that hundreds of students were willing to give up an evening to come out and observe the panel discussion. They were clearly very engaged and had strong views on the topic of divestment. I don’t think this is a passing fad. It’s galvanized students across Canada and beyond. I think many of them will be active in the area of climate change for many years to come.
What surprised you? What did you learn?
The question-and-answer portion of the evening was unfortunately not very constructive. Rather than ask questions to better understand the panelists’ perspectives on divestment (as per the intended topic of discussion), most students chose to ask polarizing “gotcha questions” which didn’t contribute to a constructive conversation. This was disappointing, but I was pleasantly surprised at the number of students who lined up to chat with me after the event. Almost every one of them expressed support for Suncor and talked about the need to work with progressive companies to address climate change. The takeaway for me was that there’s actually a good diversity of thought on campus and a great many young people who recognize the complexity of the climate change challenge and are anxious to be part of the solution.
Where do you think the divestment movement is headed?
The divestment movement is attractive to a lot of people at first blush. Everyone wants to do something to address climate change and it’s easy to feel like no progress is being made. So when a simple idea like divesting fossil fuels comes along, it can pick up a lot of momentum in a hurry. The divestment campaign has gained a great deal of support on campuses across the country and I don’t think it’s going away any time soon. However, when you really dig into it, it becomes obvious that divestment is not an effective tool for addressing climate change. Even if the campaign were wildly successful, it wouldn’t result in reduced fossil fuel usage or greenhouse gas emissions. I think ultimately, people who take the time to genuinely understand the issues will recognize that solutions will come from a combination of education, conservation, regulation and adaptation.