From divestment to climate justice: perspectives from university fossil fuel divestment campaigns
Aidid, Shadiya A.
Master of Health Sciences
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The Fossil Fuel Divestment (FFD) Movement has helped facilitate a global transition away from fossil fuels by stigmatizing the sector’s public image. The movement has been claimed to be rooted in climate justice, a framework that addresses the history of land domination, neoliberal capitalism, and the unequal distribution of environmental burdens. The literature on FFD indicates that in addition to keeping carbon reserves in the ground, FFD campaigns have provided space for settler students to learn about the ongoing colonialism of Indigenous land and have given them the opportunity to create alliances with frontline communities. Despite these accomplishments, FFD campaigns can reproduce the inequities of the dominant racist and colonial systems and reinforce the very market-based approaches that climate justice activists have rejected. Furthermore, campaigns lack diverse memberships and thus divestment can be perceived as a tactic of the privileged which can contribute to misunderstandings of what “counts” as climate justice work. Using movement-relevant theory and a climate justice principles framework informed by scholarly and movement literature in the fields of planetary health, environmental justice and climate justice, I articulate three principles—Values, Participation and Recognition—to explore how university-based FFD campaigns have operationalized climate justice in their strategies and practices. I employed a multiple case study of three FFD campaigns across Canada and collected and analyzed data from public campaign documents and in-depth, semi-structured interviews with core organizers from each campaign. Through the CJ principles framework, I used a priori coding schema to deduct codes based on the three principles. The findings of this research identified that climate justice principles were operationalized through 1) Climate justice messaging through divestment arguments and popular education; 2) Equitable movement-building practices through community-building, accessibility and care and; 3) Frontline and movement solidarity through collaboration, relationship-building and community reinvestment. This study also identified the barriers and contradictions present in the integration of CJ. The key implications of this research can provide opportunities for further application of CJ. These include monitoring the reinvestment of divested funds to ensure that harm is not further perpetuated by investment in other exploitative sectors, to incorporate intentional recruitment strategies and formalized processes for decision-making to recruit and retain diverse organizers, and to prioritize the creation and maintenance of long-term relationships in their solidarity efforts.