Letter to Vancouver Sun in response to editorial critical of divestment at UBC

February 27, 2015

This letter was submitted to the Sun today:

Your February 26 editorial relied heavily on a study that concluded that divestment from fossil fuels would not have a significant impact on the “carbon shadow” of UBC’s endowment. Unfortunately, that study significantly underestimates the impact of divestment.

The renewable firms the authors used to assess the impact of reinvestment turn out to be outliers. Using average renewable firms yields a 90% reduction of the carbon footprint of the fossil fuel component of UBC’s endowment, not 22%. (Technical critique here.)

The study compares investments based on firms’ emissions only to the point of sale. For a solar panel producer, that approximates emissions over the product’s full life cycle. For fossil fuels companies the PICS study excludes the vast majority of emissions, which occur when those fuels are burned by consumers. The moral justification for divestment lies in the much larger differences over the full life-cycle that are not captured by the study’s methods.

If we are to live in a world with a safe climate system, “the vast majority of [fossil fuel] reserves are unburnable,” Bank of England Governor Mark Carney recently warned. UBC should not fund its students’ education by investing in industries whose products inevitably harm their future.

Kathryn Harrison, Political Science, UBC
George Hoberg, Forest Resources Management, UBC

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