Teachers Demand That Their Pensions Be Divested from Fossil Fuels
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Teachers Demand That Their Pensions Be Divested from Fossil Fuels

The Trans-Mountain pipeline could become “Canada’s Standing Rock.”

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Demonstrators outside the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan offices at Yonge and Finch to demand that the OTPP divest from fossil fuels. Photo by Sam Rabinovici.

Students, teachers, and climate activists are continuing to pressure the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan to immediately stop investing in the destruction of their future.

At a March 2 rally outside the OTPP offices at Yonge and Finch, we called on the OTPP to join the upwards of 700 institutions across 76 countries that have already committed to divesting $5 trillion from fossil fuels.

The rally was organized by Toronto350 as part of a long-term campaign to encourage divestment. Last fall, we succeeded in getting the OTPP to divest from Enbridge after acknowledging they were invested in the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Now, Kinder Morgan needs to finance the construction of its $6.8 billion pipeline and has hired TD Bank as an adviser while it canvasses pension plans for investment. Included are the Canada Pension Plan, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, and the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec.

OTPP invests $24.8 billion of its $170 billion in total retirement holdings into dirty oil, coal, and natural gas projects, and the pipelines that enable them, Now magazine reports.

“There’s a terrible irony here,” said Brian Young, a retired teacher and member of Toronto350. “Pensions have a legal duty to ensure a secure future for their members. Kinder Morgan’s sole enterprise is to exploit tar sands oil, which, by its very extraction and use, acts to destroy that future through global warming and environmental degradation.”

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Toronto350.org organized a rally at the OTPP offices March 2. Photo courtesy of Sam Rabinovici.

The year 2016 was all about pipelines. Standing Rock, North Dakota was the largest gathering of Indigenous nations across Turtle Island in history. Thousands of water protectors were united in opposition to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline—a project that threatens sacred burial grounds, First Nations’ livelihood, and communities that rely on the Missouri River for drinking water.

Similar conflicts have been happening all over Canada. The Chippewas of the Thames First Nation took Enbridge to the Supreme Court over the reversal of their Line 9 pipeline, and the Clyde River Inuit travelled to Ottawa over seismic drilling in the Arctic.

But perhaps the most vocal opposition has been over the Trans-Mountain expansion, a project spearheaded by Texas-based oil giant Kinder Morgan, which was recently approved by the federal Liberal government. This expansion would nearly triple the pipeline’s capacity, increase traffic on the precious BC coast, from five to 34 tankers per month, and allow for the continued expansion of the Alberta tar sands.

Despite country-wide candlelight vigils, protests, and sit-ins at the offices of various ministers of Parliament, our voices are not being heard by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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Youth climate march in Ottawa October 24. Hundreds of young people risked arrest to demand that Justin Trudeau reject the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Photo via Mike Hudema on Twitter.

When students and activists gathered in Ottawa in October to tell Trudeau we did not want the Kinder Morgan pipeline, 99 of us were arrested. When more than 60 First Nations signed the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion, our government focused the public’s attention on the very few opposing voices who accelerated their agenda. That is not democracy. That is not reconciliation based on nation-to-nation relationships. That is not what we voted for.

The Trans-Mountain has already been dubbed “Canada’s Standing Rock.”

Trudeau signed the Paris Climate Agreement. When going through with the Trans-Mountain project is the equivalent of building 42 new coal plants, it is not a step towards reducing emissions or transitioning away from an economy that is precariously dependent on fossil fuels. How can you build a sustainable country on a resource that by definition is unsustainable?

At one point in time, funding pipeline projects and investing in the Alberta tar sands were wise financial decisions, but as oil reserves decline, our climate worsens, and the demand for green energy increases, they no longer carry that same reliable monetary value.

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Protesters calling for banks to divest from fossil fuels in Toronto’s financial district. Photo by Jason Cook via Torontoist Flickr pool.

As the concerns about irreversible damage to the biosphere catapult us further toward a possible climate catastrophe, we all must demand that those in power stop listening to Big Oil and instead turn their attention toward the science.

You cannot build a sustainable economy based on an unsustainable resource.

You cannot uphold the Paris Climate Agreement and expand the tar sands.

You cannot honour the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by ignoring the right to free, prior, and informed consent.

You cannot make promises for a stable future while simultaneously destroying it.

No new fossil fuel investments. No more subsidies. Divest existing funds and use them to finance the transition to renewables.

Kalina Hada-Lemon is a coordinator for Toronto350.org.