An Open Letter to the Royal Geographic Society of Canada: Sever your ties with fossil fuels

Dear CEO of the Royal Geographic Society of Canada (RCGS) John Geiger, RCGS Board of Governors (Gavin Finxch, Wendy Cecil, Connie Wyatt Anderson, Deborah Apps, Carl Gauthier, Claire Kennedy, Nellie Kusugak, Akaash Maharaj, Kathryn McCain, Lois Mitchell, Janis Peleshok, John Pollack, André Préfontaine), and Honorary Officers (Wade Davis, Chief Perry Bellegarde, and Roberta Bondar), 

At the most recent climate summit in Glasgow (COP 26), the Royal Geographic Society of Canada (RCGS) joined with 80 geography societies and organizations from 59 countries, to sign a joint declaration on the biodiversity and climate emergency. In signing the declaration, the RCGS committed “to doing all that we can to apply geography’s potent capabilities to the task of making the coming decade one of hope and of positive action”.

It has come to our attention that the Canadian Geographic Magazine, published by the Royal Geographic Society of Canada (RCGS), is collaborating with two fossil fuel giants, Royal Dutch Shell and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), on educational resources for school-aged children and teachers, including the Energy IQ resource (sponsored by CAPP) and the Classroom Energy Diet Challenge (sponsored by Shell). We, the undersigned geographers (faculty, students, and alumni), as well as concerned educators, parents, students, and residents, are deeply concerned about these partnerships and the promotion of fossil fuel company-sponsored educational resources.

The RCGS cannot meet its commitments made in Glasgow while collaborating with actors who are known obstacles to climate action. CAPP, for example, worked to weaken BC’s carbon policies, and most recently CAPP called for the federal government to freeze the carbon tax and to delay new regulations. Meanwhile, Shell recognized the threat of climate change decades ago, yet it worked to sow doubt about climate change and lobbied decision-makers to block clean energy legislation and climate treaties in the 1990s.

The RCGS collaboration with CAPP and Shell is out of step with the decisions of other institutions, who are increasingly severing ties with fossil fuel companies. For example, the Canadian Association of Geographers, the academic association for the discipline of geography, divested its financial holdings from FFs in 2016, just one year after the Canadian Medical Association voted to divest their financial holdings from FFs. University institutions are severing their ties, as well, with divestments from UBC, SFU, Concordia, and a number of other institutions in Canada and beyond. Divestment pressure is also on for Canada’s cultural institutions, following moves by international museums and galleries to refuse fossil fuel donations. Divestment and donor screens are means of revoking the social license of the fossil fuel sector to operate with impunity. We recognize that organizations like the RCGS have come to depend on these donations, but they must align themselves with their commitments.

Furthermore, educational resources sponsored by fossil fuel companies have no place in schools. As a 2022 letter from the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment notes, “Just as cigarette and tobacco companies are not allowed to promote their products in our schools, fossil fuel companies should also be barred from promoting their products in schools due to the detrimental impacts of fossil fuels on climate change and human health, which are contributing to an existential crisis for humanity”. Scholarly work demonstrates that fossil fuel’s reach into civil society, including schools, is one piece of a larger regime of obstruction blocking the energy transition necessary in the fight against climate change (Eaton & Day 2020).  The resources being promoted by the RCGS downplay the consequences of fossil fuel extraction, place the blame for climate change onto consumers, and fail to acknowledge the role of fossil fuel corporate power in blocking climate action.

Fossil-fuel-sponsored education fails to equip students with the knowledge to address the climate crisis, which we know will not be solved by carbon footprint challenges that emerged from the fossil fuel sector itself (Tannock 2021). It has no place in a world on the verge of a climate catastrophe, largely brought on by fossil fuel companies themselves.

We call on the RCGS to sever these ties with Shell and CAPP. Students, Canadians, and geographers deserve better.

Sign the open letter here.

 

“Fossil fuel corporations and industry groups have sought to deliberately undermine public faith in climate science. They are not neutral partners but active players in the destabilization of the living systems that we research. We owe it to our students to model the rapid fossil fuel phase out required of society as a whole in this moment of climate emergency.” – Naomi Klein

As a parent and BC school trustees, I see the profound impact education can have on shaping our future. I don’t trust the intentions of fossil fuel corporations in providing materials for the consumption of our children.” – Allison Watson

Fossil fuel energy companies have been actively imperiling the future of the  human species and many other species on this planet. They should not “greenwash” their activities in school to youth whose future they [are] putting in jeopardy”- William Darnell, founding member of Greenpeace and BA Geography 1968 McMaster University