Toronto350.org, an environmental awareness and activist group, has released a brief that calls on the University of Toronto to divest its shares in global fossil fuel companies. The organization has initiated an attestation petition that can be signed by students to support the brief’s message. The petition was shared on the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Sustainability Commission’s Facebook page early Saturday morning.
Toronto350.org is the Toronto chapter of 350.org, an international volunteer organization that aims to solve the climate crisis. The local chapter was founded in June 2012. Many of its planning meetings are open to the public and take place on the U of T campus.
The brief states that “The University of Toronto can help lead the necessary redirection of investment that will allow humanity to prevent climatic catastrophe while building a safe and efficient global energy system that can be relied upon indefinitely” through divestment. Toronto350.org cites divestment in the Royal Dutch Shell company as a priority. U of T invests more in Royal Dutch Shell than in any other international equity.
The brief expresses the belief that divestment would be a powerful political statement, claiming that it “could help produce a political climate in which significant action can be taken, including in the form of carbon pricing and reduced subsidies for fossil fuels.”
On May 22, 2013, Toronto350.org wrote a letter to U of T president David Naylor, the full text of which is available on the organization’s website, that reads as a more condensed version of the 190-page brief. The letter cites numerous notable U of T alumni as supporters of the initiative, including author-activists Naomi Klein and Tzeporah Berman, and Toronto Poet Laureate Dionne Brand. The group released its brief on September 10, 2013.
At the core of the Toronto350.org argument is the belief that financial support of fossil fuel is akin to declaring a moral position on fossil fuels and climate change. This argument is in part based on two official University of Toronto documents: the “Policy on Social and Political Issues with Respect to University Divestment” and the “Procedures for Responding to Social and Political Issues with Respect to University Divestment.” Toronto350.org cites the Yale University concept of “social injury,” which is outlined in the former document, as a guidepost in their arguments. Social injury is defined by U of T as “the injurious impact which the activities of a company are found to have on consumers, employees, or other persons, particularly including activities which violate…rules of domestic or international law intended to protect individuals against deprivation or health, safety, or basic freedoms.”
Toronto350.org states that it is not debatable that fossil fuels lead to climate change, or that climate change is an example of social injury. By this argument, U of T’s own regulations require divestment. The brief stresses that, though “U of T is active in climate change research and teaching,” such work “is not a substitute for divestment.”