On Oct. 17, the Richard Ivey School of Business will award Rick George, recently retired CEO of Suncor Energy Inc., the 2012 Ivey Business Leader Award.
Suncor Energy is a major oil industry company which extracts, processes and distributes fossil fuel products. The burning of these products is one substantial contributing factor to global climate change, which exacerbates both the ecological crisis and the social and environmental injustices faced by the world’s poorest people. For students and faculty members at Western who work hard to research and promote social and environmental justice, as well as climate mitigation and adaptation strategies, this award should be a source of both embarrassment and outrage.
By conferring this award, the university positions itself as part of the problem, effectively offering Suncor Energy an ill-deserved cloak of legitimacy.
Of course, Suncor’s PR department would insist the company has shown a commitment to supporting sustainable and renewable energy sources, such as wind and ethanol. Indeed, some of these efforts may even contribute something useful.
But let’s not bury our heads in the sand, pretending not to see the obvious.
We know that Suncor has put far more effort and resources into Tar Sands extraction, showing a disturbing lack of concern for the public interest or the need to address climate change. It is estimated the volume of ethanol Suncor produces is less than 2 per cent the volume of crude oil extracted from its Tar Sands reserves.
If Suncor were serious about wanting to mitigate the effects of climate change, it (and other oil companies) would act quickly to substantially and rapidly reduce its crude oil extraction and production. There is no evidence that Suncor has any such plans.
As if its indifference to the public interest were not bad enough, Suncor adds insult to injury by brazenly over-compensating its irresponsible executives, including the retiring George. The Occupy movement across North America, including here in London, has highlighted the income inequality between the 99 per cent and the 1 per cent, and George is an all-too-vivid illustration of the problem. In 2011, he pocketed $15 million.
The real issue at hand is Ivey is discrediting itself by lending its support to an industry that has seen its day, and which now stands clearly and unapologetically on the wrong side of history, clinging to outmoded and irresponsible forms of energy profiteering.
Surely Ivey should reconsider its choice, offering its award to one of the many grassroots activists or innovators who are actually contributing to the search for solutions to the environmental crisis.
Oil barons like George should be shunned by responsible members of the university community, not celebrated as models for Ivey students to emulate.
Stephen D’Arcy, Department of Philosophy, Huron University College, researches civic virtue in the face of injustice, within the context of democratic politics. David McColl, a fourth-year undergraduate student studying Integrated Engineering, has worked in collaboration with a variety of community groups, including EnviroWestern and Engineers Without Borders. He has worked as a campaigner for the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, and, most recently, in quality assurance at Electro-Motive Diesel.