Open Letter from McGill University groups: Respect Wet’suwet’en Sovereignty and Divest from CGL Pipeline

A solidarity declaration with the Wet’suwet’en and call for McGill’s divestment from the CGL Pipeline, February 8, 2021


CAUA media release March 10, 2021

University Leaders Challenged to Commit to Climate Goals

3,500 Faculty, Staff, and Students Petition Canadian Universities to Sign Global Climate Letter

EDMONTON, MARCH 10, 2021 – Frustrated by the gulf between expert research on climate change and milquetoast institutional responses to the crisis, Canadian university faculty, staff, and students have raised their voices. Over 3,500 individuals from 74 post-secondary institutions have added their names to a petition calling on Canadian University leaders to sign the Global Universities and Colleges Climate Letter, a document sponsored by the United Nations Environment Program and organizations supporting sustainability in higher education.

Signatories of the petition include members of academic staff, non-academic staff, undergraduate students, graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, research associates, alumni, and emeriti professors.

To date, 606 post-secondary institutions around the world have signed the Global Climate Letter, which declares a “Climate Emergency in recognition of the need for a drastic societal shift to combat the growing threat of climate change.” Institutional signatories to this letter also commit to fulfilling three goals, all of which are consistent with the mandate of institutions of higher learning to contribute to the public good:

1. Mobilize more resources for action-oriented climate change research and skills creation;
2. Commit to going carbon neutral by 2030 or 2050 at the very latest;
3. Increase the delivery of environmental and sustainability education across curriculum, campus, and community outreach programmes.

The petition, circulated by the Climate Action Coalition at the University of Alberta (CAUA) and supported by the Canadian Association of University Teachers, has garnered over 3500 signatures to date, including over 1800 continuing faculty members. 

The thousands of Canadian university faculty, staff and students supporting this petition are sending a clear message to university and college leaders: if our institutions of higher learning are not willing to squarely address the most pressing challenge of our century, they risk losing their legitimacy as leaders of institutions mandated to serve knowledge and the public good. The time to commit to a sustainable future is now.

Comments from CAUA members, who note that the University of Alberta is the only university among Canada’s “top five” that has not yet signed the Global Climate Letter:

Professor of Political Science at the University of Alberta, Dr. Laurie Adkin, underlined the message of the petition: “Universities have important roles to play in helping our societies and governments grapple with the complexity of the climate crisis, and in developing ecologically sustainable ways of living well. University staff, academics, and students want to work with our communities to achieve climate justice--at home and globally--and we need our institutions to prioritize these tasks.” 

A non-academic staff member and member of the CAUA who wishes to remain anonymous, views the letter as a bare minimum: “Frankly, signing onto the Global Universities and Colleges Climate Letter is the absolute least our institutions should be doing. If we fail to make even the most basic of commitments to our collective future, what message are we sending to the students we teach, and to the communities we serve? If our institutional leaders cannot sign, we must ask ourselves: what – or who – is stopping them?”

University of Alberta Professor Emeritus, Dr. David Cooper, says: “As a retired, but long-time Business professor, and a former member of the Board of Governors, I strongly support a serious move to ethical investment for the university's investments and to our pension plans. This is not only a matter of being fiscally responsible (though it is that) but it is also a commitment to moral leadership in the face of climate chaos and the substantial threat to our planet.”  

Graduate student Rohan Nuttall (Computing Science) says: "Failing to take meaningful action on climate change (e.g., divestment, signing the Global Climate Letter) is not only uninspiring to students, but it is economically foolish. Our administrators should understand the sunk cost fallacy . . .  If the U of A wants to create "changemakers" and "future leaders", it should lead by example."

As of March 10, 2021, 59 per cent of the signatories come from academic staff, 31 per cent from students, and 10 per cent from the other categories. 

The largest single group of signatories is from the University of Alberta, which accounts for almost 20 per cent of the signatories. 

CAUA is sending the petition to the leaders of the universities that are CAUT and Universities Canada members, as well as to Universities Canada. 

The petition will remain open to new signatories until all of Canada’s universities have signed on to the Global Climate letter.

The full list of signatories to the petition, as of March 10, 2021, as well as numbers by institution and occupational category, may be found here.

Laurie E. Adkin, Ph.D. 
Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Alberta
Convenor, Climate Action at the University of Alberta (CAUA)

David J. Cooper, Ph.D.,
Professor Emeritus, School of Business, University of Alberta

Debra J. Davidson, Ph.D.,
Professor, Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology
University of Alberta

The University of Alberta’s Commitments to Dismantling Racism

photo by Hoshang Hasmimi. Source:

by Laurie Adkin, Professor, Dept. of Political Science

In his Quad post of September 8, 2020, University of Alberta President, Bill Flanagan, wrote: “We condemn all racism, including specifically anti-Black racism and anti-Indigenous racism, and see education as a key vehicle for change in the world.” This statement generates hope that university administrators will grasp the importance of mobilizing the institution’s resources to advance a socially just, green transition in Alberta and Canada. That they will  commit our institution to the actions embodied in the declaration of climate emergency issued by international associations of higher education. That they will recognize the moral imperative to divest university endowment funds from fossil fuels and reinvest in sustainable and ethical alternatives.
Why? Because investment in fossil fuel extraction, upgrading, and transportation—from the industry-driven R&D carried out in universities to the tax credits and buy-outs on the part of governments—is a form of environmental racism.
Fossil fuel combustion accounts for more than three-quarters of the global greenhouse gases that are driving climate destabilization, and the front-line victims of this crisis are people in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, the Middle East, low-lying island nations, and Indigenous peoples on all continents. The populations most vulnerable to devastating floods, fires, storms, crop failures, and environmentally linked diseases are poor, and, everywhere, this disproportionately includes racialized people. Failing to act where we can to reduce fossil fuel consumption says a lot about how we value the lives of the people most harmed by climate change. Fossil capitalism is deeply racist—at every level and at every point in its supply chains and net of environmental impacts.
photo by Amani Al-mehsenm March 3, 2020 SOURCE: Tahdisto,
The university’s entanglements in relations of racism and exclusion do not stop at the boundaries of the campus. What we do – or fail to do—in deciding on the priorities for research and teaching and for the investment of university endowment and pension funds has consequences for people we may never know and generations yet to be born.
Yes, we are only one institution, and we are struggling to protect our core mission of serving the public good in the context of massive defunding by the UCP government. Understood. But in the process of the re-envisioning and radical restructuring of the university, let us seize the opportunity to examine how our commitments currently contribute to environmental racism in our own province and globally. Let us talk seriously about how we can practise what we preach not only regarding employment practices, but also regarding the knowledge we produce and the funds we invest. What interests are these serving? How could education, research, and university investments be better used to advance social equality and ecological sustainability and to dismantle racist relationships?

Laurie Adkin is the author of Knowledge for an Ecologically Sustainable Future? Innovation Policy and Alberta Universities, published June 2020 by the Parkland Institute and the Corporate Mapping Project.


Call to Canadian universities to divest from fossil fuels

Divest Canada campaign endorsed by CAUA


The Covid-19 Pandemic and the Deepening Climate Crisis

The Covid-19 virus is an emergency. What can the Canadian climate justice movement learn from the ways in which our governments are responding to it?
In response to the economic contraction triggered by the covid-19 pandemic, the EI fund was boosted last week (among other measures). Today (March 13), a $10 billion credit facility was announced by the federal government to hold over Canadian businesses affected by lost sales. (This amount could be doubled.) The Bank of Canada is cutting its lending rate again and creating a new lending facility for businesses in trouble. The domestic stability buffer for Canadian banks is being lowered to 1 per cent, freeing $300 billion in additional lending capacity by the banks. A stabilization program is in the works for Alberta (and Saskatchewan?). Today’s announcements constitute, apparently, the second stage of a longer series of steps to be taken to respond to the pandemic.
Economist Jim Stafford points out (on CBC Radio’s emergency coverage of the emergency measures, this afternoon) that the $10 billion announced by Minister Morneau compares to the $200 billion that was made available by the Harper Govt to help businesses weather the 2008 financial crisis. Stafford joined calls from the labour movement for the immediate increase and extension of workers’ benefits.
Political ecologists and ecological economists, drawing on climate science and trends in fossil fuel extraction, have been saying for almost two decades that we could either plan economic degrowth or have it imposed upon us by the effects of global warming. Calls for “Green New Deals,” “Just Transition,” or “rapid transition to a post-carbon economy” (all different labels for the same thing) have been dismissed as unrealistic. They couldn’t be financed, it was said. “Fiscally responsible” governments are all about eliminating deficits and small government, neoliberals continue to say.  Incremental market adjustments would do the trick, claimed the liberals.  Yet, with a few cabinet meetings it can be decided that we are in the throes of a national emergency and credit can be generated for low-cost lending to businesses. Laid-off workers can be provided with more income. Purported neoliberals are now calling for “fiscal stimulus” for their oil-price-depressed local economies.
When a government can create, within days, financing on the scale of $200 billion to maintain the status quo, but cannot do the same to help build a new, more resilient and egalitarian economy–one that provides greater income stability for all–we must conclude that the problem is not the means, but the will, to act on the evidence of climate science.
As for the employment/income crisis in Alberta, I hope, personally, that the federal government will not give the UCP government control over a stabilisation fund that it would very likely use to further subsidize the fossil fuel corporations operating in the province.  Any such fund should be administered by an independent agency that includes experts on the impacts of climate science as well as civil society representatives in its governance body, and that has a green transition mandate.
At this juncture the Liberals have an opportunity to turn a crisis into solutions.  They should not miss another opportunity to explain to Canadians that the capitalist-growth-driven economy is driving us right past the point of no-return (return, that is, to a global warming threshold below 2 degrees). The existing economy is hurtling us toward a world with 200 million climate refugees by mid-century, and we are already struggling to resettle 6 million refugees from the Middle East and African conflicts.
The covid-19 virus is a small test-run for what is coming, if we don’t make radical changes now. Remember that, in addition to climate science’s predictions of collapses in food production and marine environments (the latter already well advanced), there is a whole field of research related to the effects of global warming on disease vectors and other determinants of pubic health. We can mobilize the public financing now for a planned transition, or, we can react spasmodically to crisis after crisis in the years ahead, at the cost of immense suffering and—very likely—growing political authoritarianism.
Laurie Adkin, Professor of Political Science, University of Alberta, March 13, 2020

campaign updates

UBCc350 releases recommendations for divestment from fossil fuels, August 5, 2020

Blog Uncategorized

We can save Alberta’s scenic high country

by Kevin van Tighem, naturalist and writer, resident of southwest Alberta

In a confidential meeting with the Calgary Chamber of Commerce during the last Alberta provincial election campaign, Jason Kenney described his strategy for implementing a far-right exploitation agenda. He said the plan was to overwhelm any opposition by bringing in massive policy changes as fast as possible. And that is exactly what he has done.
The power of that approach is that it both confuses people and makes them feel overwhelmed and helpless. So they retreat into despair, and those who profit from extracting value from the public purse, the work of others and the environment win. But it’s a tactic based on overwhelming our senses, not on real power. In a democracy like ours, real power is distributed across many levels of government and many groups of people. And we can still tap into it to defend our province from those who would suck it dry and then discard it.
The coal mining assault on the Eastern Slopes is a case in point. We are meant to feel that there is nothing we can do to stop strip mines from opening, one after another, from Crowsnest Pass to Grande Cache, in the scenic headwaters of our prairie rivers. We’re supposed to go down without a fight as the habitats of native trout and the homes of bighorn sheep, alpine forget-me-nots and golden eagles get reduced to rubble in order to send coal to be burnt in foreign steel mills. But we have the power to keep our mountains free of coal strip-mines.
I and others have been encouraging concerned Albertans to write to the Premier and our so-called Minister of Environment and Parks with their objections. That’s still a good idea, because it does ensure that they know that their voters actually care about our home place enough to protest bad policy. But we need to be realistic: this is a government with a far-right ideology. They truly believe in what they are doing. We are not going to convince them to change course.
On the other hand, they have done almost everything they can to alienate the federal government and to let the ruling Liberals know that there’s little hope of winning seats in Alberta. Ironically, this could help Albertans who care deeply about our Eastern Slopes to persuade Ottawa to stand on guard for us and the places we love.
Provincial and federal governments alike have a duty, under our Constitution, to consult with First Nations whose rights are affected by major changes to land use policy. When Alberta arbitrarily revoked its Coal Policy — one that was originally put in place by Peter Lougheed’s Progressive Conservative government after extensive consultation — they consulted only with the coal industry. They are in breach of their Constitutional duty to respectfully consult Indigenous people. The federal government has a direct interest in that.
Almost all the current coal mining proposals affect the breeding habitat of species protected by law under the federal Species At Risk Act. These include Westslope Cutthroat Trout, Limber and Whitebark Pines, and Grizzly Bear. The province has submitted draft recovery plans for cutthroat trout and grizzly that are clearly substandard and they expect the federal government to rubber stamp those plans — even while instituting a policy that is intended to facilitate strip-mining of critical habitats. The federal government has a duty to protect those species.
The Government of Canada and Alberta are subject to international agreements to reduce greenhouse gases. This is an urgent priority in the face of our ongoing climate crisis. Burning coal releases stored carbon into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Coal mined in Alberta might be burned in China, Japan or India, but there is only one atmosphere: we don’t get to play Pontius Pilate on this. The federal government has a duty to consider the impact of major new initiatives on our ability to meet our greenhouse gas reduction targets.
The Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains provide more than 80% of all the river water in the arable regions of prairie Canada. Water security is a critical strategic issue for this country, given the importance of irrigation agriculture and prairie towns and cities, and the costs of flood-relief and drought-relief programs. Coal strip mining destroys the surface hydrology of headwater basins and releases soluble toxins like selenium into ground and surface water. Existing coal mines in BC and near Hinton have failed to find a way to keep those toxins out of rivers and in fact more than 90% of the threatened west slope cutthroat trout population recently died in the Fording River because of coal mine pollution. Water security is a federal concern.
So the Federal government has jurisdictional responsibilities that are affected both by individual coal mine proposals and by the Alberta government’s decision to open up formerly protected Coal Policy zone 2 lands to new strip mining. The Federal government has both the responsibility and the power to intervene — and no political reason to avoid intervening.
We need to tell them this.
And we need to ask them to impose a solution. The simplest solution? Federal legislation dictating that ANY new coal mine proposals in Canada, including expansion proposals for existing coal mines, will henceforth be subject to a formal review under the federal Impact Assessment Act. With no exceptions.
This would ensure full scrutiny of all environmental impacts, including greenhouse gas emissions, and full consideration of government duty to consult with affected Indigenous communities. It would mean that species at risk don’t get swept under the rug. And it would guarantee all Canadians an open, transparent and accessible process for citizens to intervene against bad decisions.
No less important: it would scare away a lot of investors, because they would be dealing with the kind of investment risks — i.e. full-cost accounting — that the Kenney government is trying to help them avoid. Mining investors prefer to deal with desperate third-world governments than with ones that hold investors fully accountable, because they don’t want to pay to clean up their messes or live with the damage they cause.
We CAN save our Eastern Slopes. This is one fight we can win, but citizens need to convince our federal Cabinet to step up to the plate. If you have visited the places that are now at risk, or even if you just think water security and endangered species matter, it should be pretty clear that this is one fight we have to win.
So here are some key Cabinet Ministers to whom you should send your thoughts and suggestions. Please feel free to borrow from any of the points raised above:
Prime Minister. Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau –
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. Hon. Chrystia Freeland –
Environment and Climate Change Minister. Hon. Jonathan Wilkinson –
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister. Hon. Carolyn Bennett –
Finance Minister. Hon. Bill Morneau –
Agriculture and Agri-food Minister. Hon. Marie-Claude Bibeau –
Infrastructure and Communities Minister. Hon. Catherine McKenna –
Minister of Health. Hon. Patty Hajdu –
Minister of Natural Resources. Hon. Seamus O’Regan –
Minister of Indigenous Services. Hon. Marc Miller –
Minister of Canadian Heritage, Hon. Steven Guilbeault –