The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan is financially strong, and is Canada’s largest single-profession pension plan with $171.4 billion in net assets. OTPP prides itself as having built “an international reputation for innovation and leadership in investment management and member services.” Given the large size of the pension plan, it is very influential and often impacts decisions made by other large pension plans. While there have been calls in the past for divestment, the pension plan continually reminds those calling for change that its purpose is to generate superior long-term returns while minimizing and controlling risk. For the last number of years, I have joined teachers who care about climate change at the annual meeting of our pension plan where we called for divestment from fossil fuels. The demands for divestment are steeped in science and an understanding of how critical the issue of climate change is. Fifteen of the 16 warmest years on record occurred since 2001 and a NASA press release from January 2016, reported that 2015 was the first time global average temperatures were one degree Celsius or more above the 1880- 1899 average. Canada’s temperatures have risen 1.6 degrees since 1880. Two degrees is considered the tipping point and many scientists fear we have already gone well past this point and serious, catastrophic climate change is inevitable.
The climate movement accepts the fact that the world has exceeded its carbon budget as the organization 350.org suggests in its movie Do The Math (math.350.org). Our planet has almost 2,800 gigatons of carbon reserves the fossil fuel corporations would like to burn but, if we wish to avoid catastrophic climate tipping points that would push us well past two degrees Celsius of global heating, we can only use 565 gigatons.
This past spring, media began limited coverage of the protests being held by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The Dakota and Lakota peoples who live at the reservation have a vast traditional territory that includes the land being proposed for the 1,100-mile pipeline. The tribe has strongly objected to the pipeline, which, if built, is slated to carry more than half a million barrels of crude oil across four states, potentially endangering numerous waterways and aquifers. The current proposal would see the construction of the pipeline less than half a mile from the tribe’s reservation border, encroaching on sites of religious and cultural significance, as well as traditional and ancestral lands. Throughout the summer the camp that housed the resistance to the pipeline attracted people from around the world who support the land rights of the Standing Rock Tribe and their call to protect the sacred waters threatened by the pipeline.
As I am writing, unarmed peacful people are being brutalized with rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons. Hundreds have been seriously injured. Thoughtful teachers will talk about how awful this is, and some wil, no doubt, show up to the next rally in solidarity with Standing rock. our next step, however, is to reckon with the impact of investment in fossil fuels and our responsibility to object to projects that violate human rights and destroy our planet. As teachers, we can and must ensure the value and durability of our pension fund while moving away from dependence on fossil fuels and toward building a sustainable green economy that values human rights and respects that treaty rights of FNMI Peoples. Let the courage of the land defenders at Standing Rock be our touchstone as we make a bold leap towards investment.
Thanks to Adam Davidson-Harden for many suggestions and editing support.
Kim Fry is a member of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto.