Making a Difference at UVic

I want to change the world for the better.
I want to have a positive impact.

A lot of students have this thought in mind while pursuing their education and imagining the future.

Is it really possible?

It’s definitely a big goal, though not strictly following the SMART rule for realistic goal setting — specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timely. I mean, this change in the world is highly relevant and long overdue but is it really attainable for you at the moment?

It can be: start a little bit smaller in your own community, instead of trying to reach the whole world immediately. The University of Victoria and its clubs offer several possibilities to get involved and to make a difference. It might seem small at first but it surely is going to have an impact on the bigger picture. In addition, you can find a specific goal.

On which area do you want to have an impact?

In my last post, I introduced you to the Community Cabbage, a club on campus devoted to food security, and gave some tips on how to cut down your own food waste. These are small actions in your local community which have an impact on our environment, climate and the people around you.

divest logo bigAnother group motivated to make a difference here on campus is Divest UVic. They want to bring awareness to issues surrounding fossil fuels, its negative impact on our climate, and highlight which role institutions like UVic play in that.

Big institutions like universities and banks normally have an endowment fund with great amounts of money that they invest in other institutions to get returns, aka more money, out of it. At UVic, these revenues are mostly used to support researchers on campus, so there’s nothing wrong with this part of the deal.

According to Divest UVic, the problem lies in the businesses that UVic’s Foundation chooses to invest into. At the moment, approximately $30 million go into the coal, gas and oil industry, supporting the use of fossil fuels and with that unfortunately also supporting high carbon dioxide emissions. A few years ago, a movement of divesting started among institutions to withdraw their funds from the fossil fuel industry and instead invest them into more sustainable businesses.

Unfortunately, UVic isn’t following yet. Our Foundation, which makes the decision about the university’s money and should actually be confronted with that issue, is hard to reach for students. These are mainly donors of the university who are not regularly on campus. So Divest UVic tries to act one level below that: the Board of Governance (BoG).

In the BoG, officials appointed by the local government and donors come together with faculty and student representatives to discuss about important and university-wide decisions. They have a great impact on UVic behind the curtain but also on its reputation, so one of their main priorities for quite some time has been to make our campus more sustainable.

How can a mindset of sustainability and investment in fossil fuels go hand in hand?

They can’t, says Divest UVic, trying to encourage divestment from the current businesses and reinvesting in renewable energies or the local economy.

Members of the UVic Board of Governors walk through a 'human corridor' of students, demanding the University choose between fossil fuel investments and climate solutions.

Members of the UVic Board of Governors walk through a ‘human corridor’ of students, demanding the university choose between fossil fuel investments and climate solutions. Photo: Divest UVic

To make themselves heard at the first BoG meeting of 2016, Divest UVic organized an action on Tuesday, January 26, where students asked Governors to “pick your side” in this important discussion.

Even though several members of the BoG showed interest in starting a dialogue with the students, there was no clear decision for divestment made during the meeting.

Therefore, the student club is already collecting new ideas that can show the university how important this issue is for the community. For the next meeting of the BoG, on March 29, Divest UVic wants to be back with new actions to continue their now three year long campaign for divestment.

If you want to support the movement and get involved with your own creative ideas, don’t hesitate to contact the club through Facebook or Twitter. If you are interested in reading more about the issue and why it is especially important that universities lead this movement, I can recommend this read by gofossilfree.org.

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