Tar Sands Solutions Network

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Tar Sands Free

One of the most promising efforts to curtail tar sands development is the commitment of cities, universities, foundations, businesses and religious institutions to stop using tar sands-based products or investing in companies that profit from tar sands production. 

In 2013, fossil fuel divestment campaigns spread like wildfire around the globe. So far, 29 municipalities, 13 universities and colleges, and dozens of foundations and religious institutions worldwide have agreed to stop investing in companies involved in the production and promotion of tar sands crude.

Numerous businesses have passed resolutions to stop using tar sands-derived fuels, and more than a few municipalities have decided to prohibit the transport of tar sands crude through theri communities. 

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- Companies, municipalities, universities, and religious institutions to no tar sands in their fuel supplies and investment portfolios
Key Problems:
- Tar sands oil is significantly dirtier than alternatives
- Many companies, cities and states and the entire European Union are taking action to reduce emissions 
Current Status:
- 19 global corporations, 30 municipalities, 13 universities and colleges, dozens of religious institutions, and the EU have adopted policies unfavourable to tar sands

Cities, churches, universities and businesses across North America and Europe are taking climate action seriously by refusing to purchase tar sands fuel or invest in tar sands companies. Others have adopted policies to prohibit the use or transport of tar sands-related products. 

Bellingham, Washington, adopted new guidelines to minimize fuel purchasing from refineries taking feed stock from Canada’s tar sands. Building on the Bellingham model, dozens of New England towns and municipalities have also committed to going Tar Sands Free. Twenty-nine towns and cities in Vermont, including Burlington, the state’s largest city, passed resolutions opposing the transportation of tar sands crude through “The Green Mountain State” and committing to eliminating the use of tar sands-derived fuels in the area. Three towns in Maine – Bethel, Casco and Waterford – have passed similar resolutions, and the list grows every month.

In Maine, South Portland City Council passed an ordinance that prevents the Portland Pipe Line Corporation or others from building the large, polluting smokestacks necessary to load any form of tar sands crude oil onto tankers in its beautiful coastal port.

The business community also has joined the opposition to Canada’s dirty tar sands fuels. So far nearly twenty large businesses have publicly announced actions they have taken to reduce the environmental and social impacts of fossil-fueled transportation. Popular brands including Avon, Bed Bath & Beyond, Chiquita, eBay, Trader Joes, Walgreens and Whole Foods are all committed to reducing their use of dirty fuels like tar sands in their operations.

If it is wrong to wreck the climate, then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage. Institutions and governments that purport to serve the public good should not invest in, and profit from, from the extraction, production and consumption of fossil fuels. Just 200 publicly-traded companies hold the vast majority of the world’s proven coal, oil and gas reserves. 350.org’s Fossil Free campaign has inspired hundreds of campaigns all over the world to encourage universities, religious institutions, and city and municipal governments to reject tar sands oil as a responsible source of energy and jettison their investments in tar sands companies.

It’s working. So far, 30 municipalities, 13 universities and colleges, 19 corporations and dozens of foundations and religious institutions worldwide have agreed to stop investing in companies involved in the production and promotion of tar sands crude.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, for instance, has directed his staff not to invest the city’s $1.4 billion operating fund in fossil fuel companies, and has asked the governing board to do likewise for the city’s pension fund. The Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG), an international conservation organization whose mission is to save threatened species by making conservation efforts more effective, decided to divest its investment portfolio of fossil fuel companies so it can “serve as a model and provide an invitation to the zoo and aquarium community to join us in this movement. The Sante Fe Art Institute and the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee have followed suit.

The overwhelming commitment to avoiding tar sands-related investment vehicles and products is a welcome sign that society is beginning to understand that the risks associated with tar sands development are incompatible with a clean energy economy and a sustainable future that prevents the catastrophic impacts of climate change.

Tar Sands Free Updates & Resources

Canadian Medical Association divesting fossil fuel holdings


Andre Picard | Globe and Mail - August 27th 2015

Press Clipping: The Canadian Medical Association will divest its holdings in fossil-fuel companies, a move doctors hope will send a powerful symbolic message that climate change is an urgent health concern. “Given the health impacts of fossil fuels, we have to take a stand,” Courtney Howard, a board member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and a physician practising in Yellowknife, said, likening the move to earlier decisions by the organization to divest out of tobacco companies.

United Church of Canada votes to divest from fossil fuels

Christine Boyle | Fossil Free Faith - August 12th 2015

Blog Post: The United Church of Canada voted to sell its fossil fuel assets and commit financially to transitioning to an economy based on renewable energy. Climate justice, whereby the world’s most vulnerable populations avoid disproportionate harms of climate chaos, stands as a clear priority for Canada’s largest protestant denomination.

South Portland sets aside almost $500,000 to defend tar sands oil ban

William Hall | Bangor Daily News - June 18th 2015

Press Clipping: The South Portland City Council on Monday earmarked nearly $500,000 to defend a law it passed last year preventing the on-boarding of crude oil along the city’s waterfront. The “Clear Skies” ordinance effectively prohibits pumping tar sands oil through the Portland-Montreal Pipeline to South Portland, where the fuel could then be transported by ship. “I have heard overwhelming support for this ordinance,” saidCouncilor Claude Morgan. "There’s a great deal at stake in the long term. And by necessity, [the ordinance] must be sustainable.”

Oxford University takes a moral stand on coal and tar sands


Editors | Tar Sands Solutions - May 18th 2015

Blog Post: On May 18, the University of Oxford confirmed it is excluding companies involved in the extraction of coal and tar-sands from its direct investments on ethical grounds. University Court passed policy that states that it will also "avoid future investments" in coal and tar sands, but failed to agree to disclose its investments publicly. Students, academics and alumni are celebrating this victory after campaigning for the university and its colleges to divest from the fossil fuel industry for over a year.

Church of England ends investments in heavily polluting fossil fuels


Adam Vaughan | The Guardian - April 30th 2015

Press Clipping: The Church of England has pulled £12m out of two of the most polluting fossil fuels – tar sands oil and thermal coal – as part of what it called its moral responsibility to protect the world’s poor from the impact of global warming. The move was approved by the church’s board on Thursday, the first time it has ever imposed investment restrictions because of climate change.

Why University of Victoria students voted to divest

Mychaylo Prystupa | Vancouver Observer - March 7th 2015

Press Clipping: This week, University of Victoria students voted overwhelmingly — 77 per cent in favour — to urge their university to divest from fossil fuels. Organizers says it may be the largest margin of victory for a divest campaign of any Canadian campus. Why did the students vote for the climate change action? "To pressure companies to move to shift to renewable energy," wrote student Leat Ahrony.

Stanford stands up to KXL

Jenai Longstaff | Fossil Free Stanford - February 20th 2015

Blog Post: When President Obama came to Stanford University on February 13th, more than 50 students and community members were there to tell him to veto and reject the Keystone XL pipeline. Fossil Free Stanford has led Stanford’s campaign to divest from the fossil fuel industry. With the University’s assets successfully out of the coal industry, Fossil Free Stanford continues its work to end the University’s investment in oil and natural gas companies, which are causing enormous environmental destruction and human rights abuses.

Climate activists disrupt Toronto Stock Exchange opening, call for fossil fuel divestment

Editors | Tar Sands Solutions - February 13th 2015

Blog Post: At 9:30 this morning dozens of people descended on the opening of the Toronto Stock Exchange to highlight the climate and financial risk of fossil fuel investments. They floated banners reading “Don’t Bank on Tar Sands - Divest Fossil Fuels Now” and occupied the TSX front office. The action comes on the eve of Global Divestment Day, an international day of action calling for fossil fuel divestment. There are over 350 actions planned across the globe.