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SFU students plan hunger strike to demand fossil fuel divestment

A group of SFU students is launching a hunger strike campaign demanding the university commit to fully divesting from fossil fuels by 2025.

The group of students has the backing of Extinction Rebellion, SFU350 and other environmental groups in the area, as they plan to pressure SFU administration on divestment.

The university touts itself as a leader in sustainability, noting in a recent news release that a shift in its investment practices has led to a 60% decrease in the carbon footprint of its investments.

SFU added that it does not hold any direct investments in fossil fuel companies.

“The latest assessment from December 2020 shows that fossil fuel exposure in our indirect investments now represents only 5% of our holdings,” reads an SFU statement attributed to Angela Wilson, senior director of media relations and public affairs.

“By all metrics, although SFU has not committed to full divestment, the university is currently outperforming other universities that have committed to full or partial fossil fuel divestment. And SFU is committed to further refinement of its investment portfolio.”

Working off past hunger strikes

But students say they want SFU to commit to a full divestment from fossil fuels.

The campaign follows and was inspired by a 100-hour hunger strike at UBC. That pushed the university’s administration to commit in January 2020 to full divestment of its holdings from fossil fuels “as soon as possible.”

It also took inspiration from a hunger strike at King’s College several years ago, which drove the college to also divest from fossil fuels.

“So there’s a lot of precedent for it. And that’s a big part of why we decided to go with a hunger strike,” said Jaden Dyer, one of the organizers of the campaign.

“Students at SFU have been pushing for the university to divest for over seven years, and it still hasn’t happened. It’s sort of become clear that other methods of activism just have not worked.”

Dyer said the point of fully divesting from fossil fuels is about the message it sends.

“What we want for them is to help shift cultural attitudes away from the use of fossil fuels and sort of stigmatize their use,” she said.

Safety on the mountain

The students also are calling for the university to “commit to educating and preparing the campus community for the fire safety measures that are required due to the installation of the new tank farms being built on the mountain,” Dyer said.

Concerns around safety with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion have been a hot topic in Burnaby in recent years.

The fire department successfully pushed for federal funding for a firehall on Burnaby Mountain. Mayor Mike Hurley said the forthcoming firehall could help with things like evacuation in the event of an emergency.

But he said Trans Mountain’s safety plans are still not publicly available, leaving the city struggling to know how to bolster its own plans.

Karl Perrin, an anti-TMX advocate living in UniverCity, has called for more clear plans in the event of an earthquake, which could set off a tank farm fire.

“In regards to the tank farm with the Trans Mountain Pipeline project, SFU has consistently raised concerns about the tank farm and the risk it poses to our community of students, staff and faculty and UniverCity residents,” SFU said.

“Despite those concerns, the project was approved and continues to move ahead. We continue to urge federal and local governments to protect our community and to implement all available safety measures to ensure our community is protected from any hazards with the tank farm expansion currently underway.”