Letter: The AMS is using your student fees to fund fossil fuels

It’s been four years since the Alma Mater Society (AMS) voted to divest from fossil fuels.

The AMS has acted on the letter of its commitment, but not the spirit — your fees are still being used to trade your future for short-term profit by supporting RBC, Canada’s largest fossil fuel financier

RBC, which has a branch in the Nest, is the financer for the loan that paid for the Nest’s construction and manages the majority of the AMS’s multi-million dollar investment portfolio. After years of student campaigning from 2014 to 2018, the AMS formally committed to move its funds out of the oil, gas and pipeline companies that RBC supports — but not to altering its relationship with the bank itself.

This means the profit from managing its new ‘fossil-free’ investment portfolio still goes to RBC. If the bank that holds the AMS’s funds readily uses these advantages to invest in the projects that triggered last year’s heat dome deaths, AMS Council’s original commitment to divestment seems less and less sincere.

Money goes from the wallets of students to fossil fuel emitters and climate crisis enablers.

When you pay your student fees each year, one of the payments you make is for the ‘SUB Renewal Fee.’ Each student pays $100, and that money goes directly to the AMS to cover interest payments on the Nest.

When your $100 fee arrives at the AMS, it hands the money over to RBC. This is not part of the AMS’s investment portfolio — the money is owed directly to RBC as a result of the AMS’s original loan for the Nest and is not covered by the AMS agreement to avoid direct investment in fossil fuels. This agreement was an explicit acknowledgement of students’ "common cause" in rejecting fossil fuel investment, but without the application of constant student pressure the AMS has continued, year after year, to make a bank which supports the companies students rejected into its largest investment partner. 

When your fees reach the bank as payment, RBC can do whatever it likes with them.

As the world’s fifth-largest banking investor in fossil fuels, RBC invests your student fees in the Trans-Mountain Pipeline and other projects like it, jeopardizing the world UBC students will have to live in and flouting UBC's 2030 deadline for emissions reduction.

Despite the line connecting fees collected by the AMS to RBC’s climate failures, AMS Council has claimed that advocacy directed at RBC lies outside the society’s mandate. The AMS prefers to focus on “high priority climate-related issues that actually impact students” — ignoring both the threat of the climate crisis that RBC funds and the fact that students are dragged into the matter by the use of their student fees. 

Rather than seeking out alternatives, like sustainable credit unions for managing its finances, the AMS has deflected responsibility to student groups like Climate Justice UBC, Banking on a Better Future and others, who take on the responsibility of organizing and researching AMS finances, while the society itself benefits from the lack of awareness it has created. 

For as long as it isn’t clear to UBC students where AMS fees go, the AMS has no need to make a continued effort to make its financial relationships more sustainable. Once students know their funds are being used to bet against a livable future for them, they have the power to hold the AMS accountable. 

The AMS cannot pretend RBC is a disconnected entity to which it can only advocate change. The bank enjoys its direct financial support and benefits from the greenwashing effect of the RBC on campus. 

The AMS knows this, and proved as much when it did not renew its contract for RBC’s eHub program. If the AMS is to be taken seriously as an advocate for students, it must proactively look for further opportunities to divest from RBC, rather than ignoring its own commitments and the future of the students it represents.

The AMS has done the right thing in the face of student pressure before; it happened in 2018, and it can happen in 2022. If you raise your voice, alternatives to banking with RBC can be found and the on-campus outlet will give way to more sustainable alternatives

The AMS is accountable to you, and your fees deserve to fund a future you want to live in.

Climate Justice UBC (CJUBC), formerly known as UBCc350, is a community of students who organize to tackle climate change and its root causes. It believes in Indigenous sovereignty, climate action and anti-racism. It holds general meetings, beginning in September, and welcomes all to get involved in the fight against climate change and the fossil fuel industry. You can find CJUBC on Instagram @climatejusticeubc and Twitter @cjubc

This letter was written by Maddie Sides, Yasmina Seifeddine, David Collings and Yeslie Lizarraga. Seifeddine and Collings have contributed to The Ubyssey.