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If reconciliation and the climate crisis are to matter, U of T must divest from fossil fuels

U of T’s investments render its global leadership on the environment questionable

If reconciliation and the climate crisis are to matter, U of T must divest from fossil fuels

U of T holds a leading role in environmental sustainability practices. It has presented a number of initiatives which place students on the forefront of addressing the climate crisis.

The initiatives use knowledge and resources provided by the university to create a network that promotes sustainability practices and tackles climate issues globally.

However, some of U of T’s actions, most notably its investments in fossil fuel companies, are cause for calling this supposed leadership role into question.

This past July, President Meric Gertler attended a summit in Paris along with 47 other universities, who collectively comprise the U7+ Alliance. During the summit, the alliance voted unanimously to adopt six principles, ranging from efforts to “train and nurture responsible and active citizens who will contribute to society, from the local to the global level,” to “solve complex global issues through interdisciplinary research and learning.”

With its notable involvement in global summits and conferences, as well as the commitments made in the President’s Advisory Committee on the Environment, Climate Change, and Sustainability’s 2019 annual report, it is clear that U of T is a global leader when it comes to environmental and sustainability efforts.

However, in many ways U of T is acting in conflict with its own principles and values in how it is using its resources. When our money is put into industries that directly contribute to the same problems we are looking to combat, it creates a disconnect between promises made by the U of T bureaucracies and the actual actions implemented by them.

U of T promises to “address environmental issues and challenges, including sustainability and climate change,” and yet, according to Toronto350, a campaign group which calls on the university to divest from fossil fuel industries, it is heavily invested in fossil fuel companies, with “a significant portion of our ~$1.5 billion endowment devoted to this unsustainable industry.”

While U of T promises to “share [our] best practices with each other and other institutions around the world,” Toronto350 shows that we are invested in stock holdings in the “200 fossil fuel companies around the world with the largest reserves of coal, oil, and gas.”

U of T promises to “promote inclusion and opportunity while fostering ‘evidence-based public debate’ to combat societal polarization,” yet it is investing in the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on sacred Indigenous land in Hawaii. There, dozens of protesters, including 33 Native Hawaiian elders, have been arrested and continue to face confrontation by the police.

Promises like the ones mentioned above — which comprise half of the core principles the U7+ Alliance voted to adopt — can be seen as great strides toward environmental stewardship and sustainability. But investments in fossil fuel companies and disregard for Indigenous land rights betrays our promises toward these goals.

As an institution that holds a marked role in the global academic community with regard to environmental sustainability, U of T must do more to take responsibility and divest from these unsustainable and unethical companies.

True leadership would mean holding ourselves accountable to the promises we have made as a collective alliance with other institutions around the world. We rally other countries to partake in these initiatives with us, yet at the same time we hold investments that do not reflect our supposed values and principles. By prioritizing profits made from such investments, we pose a threat to the very cause we claim to fight for.

While so many of our environmental initiatives are progressive, U of T cannot continue to present itself as a leader while hypocritically investing in harmful industries. Rather than continuing to invest in fossil fuels, U of T should shift its investments into the renewable energy sector. This would not only better reflect our status as a leading university in sustainability practices, but might influence other universities to adopt clean energy initiatives. U of T must sincerely commit itself to the sustainability movement to be a true global leader.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 300 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Hafsa Ahmed is a third-year Political Science student at UTM.

TIFF 2019: Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Two Varsity writers are mesmerized by Céline Sciamma’s stunning feature film

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Right before the screening of Portrait of a Lady on Fire began, director Céline Sciamma did two things. First, she commended the décor of the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre, which has vines and bushels of fake shrubbery completely covering its ceiling, and second, she expressed her nerves at the buzz her movie had been generating. Leaning casually against the podium, she emphasized the relationship between such a grand, ornate theatre and her movie — a movie which was relatively small and didn’t have any big actors, though it may very well produce them  — and commented on the fact that though this discrepancy was incredibly humbling, it was also very stressful.

Her stress, however, proved to be unfounded, as once the screen faded to black and the final credits rolled, everyone in the multi-tiered balconies shot up to give Sciamma and her cast a roaring ovation. Two hours of movie played in between her first appearance on stage and her second. Two hours of a movie where the delicate strings that connect lovers and friends are frayed and pulled at, though never completely severed.

The film begins with a brush stroke: a thick brush swipes dark paint on a canvas and we find ourselves observing a group of young girls being instructed in portraiture by a dark-haired woman, posed rigidly but confidently, in the middle of their circle. While she poses, she calls out orders, and we find out that she is not a mere model with timely anatomical advice, she is a painter herself. As for the painting that is cast aside behind her, well, that one is called “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” And so our journey begins, jumping back a couple of years in time to the murky waters between France and Italy, to the end of the eighteenth century.

For Héloise, Marianne is an opportunity for freedom: a companion with whom her mother would finally allow her to leave the house. It takes Marianne a little bit longer to see Héloise in the same light, but before long, Marianne notes freedom in her nature: someone who doesn’t hold her tongue and who doesn’t embellish the truth. Both women have imprisonment and freedom that the other doesn’t, and so they fit together like puzzle pieces, making up for what the other lacks.

Sciamma’s film is a dissertation on what binds us to societal roles and what binds us to ourselves, questioning whether we can ever find a happy grey area between the two — if we can join the two otherwise separate circles into a Venn diagram. Imprisoned people believe they are free until they get a taste of what freedom actually feels like, and this is the case for Marianna and Héloise.

As they begin to discover and explore their newfound freedoms, they begin a romantic relationship, one that has a looming expiration date which promises a startlingly short lifespan. But the two women don’t try to evade their ending; they instead feel confident that they’ve established a bond strong enough for memory alone to sustain it once they’ve separated.

From the very beginning, Sciamma subverts expectations. Where there should be melodrama there is humour; where there should be pain there is laughter. But as such, where there should be love there is disappointment. These subversions begin as fun moments — instead of being upset at a big reveal, the characters begin to banter about the nature of art and art criticism — but eventually descend into moments of pain born out of helplessness.

However, this was the case for women in this time period. After all, Sciamma’s film is as much about women as it is about art or romance or memory. There are only five characters with substantial speaking roles, and all of them are women. Women of different social statuses and ones navigating different stages of life. These experiences — grief, motherhood, business, homosexual love — are written and filmed in a lens unique to women. Portrait of a Lady on Fire focuses on all types of relationships between women: platonic, romantic, and subservient.

There is a new canon of contemporary gay movies shaping up out of the past decade and a half, movies focusing on a uniquely individual facet of gay love, through race, gender, religion, and period in time. Stylistically, Portrait of a Lady on Fire doesn’t do enough to separate itself from the likes of Brokeback Mountain, Moonlight, Call Me by Your Name, and God’s Own Country — not that being considered part of this group is a negative thing. Unlike last year’s The Favourite, it is gentle in its delivery, with thoughtful dialogue, gorgeous landscapes, and limited music.

You don’t come out this movie feeling that you’ve just witnessed one of the greatest cinematic love stories of this century. Instead you come out focused on the women and their individual journeys. The audience focuses on how they interact with one another when not pressured by the judgemental gaze of others, and how they behave when they have moments of absolute freedom, though few and sparse.

Céline Sciamma makes a movie where she coils women’s freedoms and imprisonments so that, if you are not paying enough attention, it seems like both are parts of the same vine. She doesn’t explicitly outline what freedom and imprisonment are for her characters, and as such we leave the theatre feeling that not only that we must ponder the partition ourselves, but that the characters are continuing on with their lives, mulling over the same dilemma that we are.

That is to say, Sciamma welcomes the audience as she does her characters. She unites everyone no matter their point in life, or what they had to do to get there, so that we all meet at the same point in the end. It isn’t a moment of clarity, but rather, one of unity.