U of T has a responsibility to divest from the oil industry. While Li Pan argued the opposite in The Varsity on March 3, he fails to recognize a crucial fact: the overwhelming consensus on the existence of climate change.

Listing all of the evidence for climate change is impossible given the sheer quantity of it. However, we can note that a 2010 meta-analysis discovered that 97 to 98 per cent of climate researchers agree with the occurrence of anthropogenic climate change. A 2013 study found that 97.2 per cent of climate abstracts expressing a position on global warming endorsed the consensus that humans are causing climate change. Even fossil fuel companies acknowledge their role in perpetuating the damage of climate change.

Pan’s argument that fossil fuel companies are not socially injurious does not hold up in the face of this consensus. As defined in U of T’s divestment policy — social injury is any harmful impact a company inflicts upon people, especially when it violates laws intended to protect people’s health or safety.

Pan asserts that climate change’s harm has not been proven in court and therefore they cannot be considered socially injurious. However, during Tsilhqot’in Nation versus British Columbia, the Supreme Court of British Columbia linked climate change to British Columbia’s pine beetle epidemic. Halalt First Nation versus British Columbia recognized climate change as having a deleterious effect on water resources. Evidently, the courts have established climate change’s dangers — and even if they had not; courts are not the sole measure of socially injurious activity.

There is an abundance of academic literature that substantiates the negative effects of fossil fuel company activities. Consequences include — but are not limited to — threats to First Nations groups, extreme weather, ecosystem collapse, and rising coastal water levels. Further, activities of the fossil fuel industry infringe upon various laws. The development of the oil sands violates First Nations’ right to consultation as established in Treaty 8 and the Canadian Constitution. This is not to mention how oil companies’ practices frustrate the enforcement of international agreements, such as the 1989 International Labour Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Given the socially injurious activities of fossil fuel companies, divestment is not simply a political stance, but a necessary action in accordance with the university’s divestment policy. Toronto350’s divestment brief aptly presents this argument with extensive evidence, while also providing detailed and feasible strategies for divestment. It is thus difficult to understand why Pan, or anyone else for that matter, could be anti-divestment.

While our society was founded upon fossil fuels, our divestment from specific fossil fuel companies begins to create a safer and more efficient global energy system. Indeed, U of T has already initiated this transition towards sustainability by adopting an Environmental Protection Policy and setting up environmental offices on all three campuses. It is our responsibility to ensure future generations inherit a world that has not been impoverished by preventable climate change — divestment from fossil fuel industries is the first step to ensuring such a future.


Victoria Wicks is a first-year student at Trinity College studying political science and philosophy.