Editorial, Opinion

This is not divestment

Climate change devastates human populations, animal species, and entire ecosystems: The fossil fuel industry remains the largest contributor to climate change. Given the circumstances, being complicit in environmental degradation is immoral and investing in fossil fuels is socially injurious. With the urgent threat posed by the climate crisis increasing every day, it is absolutely imperative that McGill divests. 

The new year marks the conclusion of the university’s Vision 2020 action plan. In the outline, McGill commits to carbon neutralization by 2040. It also aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 58 per cent by 2025. Despite these lofty aspirations, the plan lacks information about how these goals will be achieved and its ambiguous language makes it unclear how it would achieve its goals and how they would benefit McGill’s commitment to sustainability. Half of the time-period specified for reducing emissions has already expired, yet McGill has not released reports on the plan’s progress since at least 2017. 

Moreover, the plan’s goals fail to address the urgency of climate change. The world does not have two decades to reach carbon neutralization. In fact, top climate scientists assert that 2020 is the last year to prevent irreversible climate damage: 2040 is an unacceptable deadline for carbon neutralization.

In the plan, McGill also cites its Sustainability Projects Fund (SPF) as a program that promotes climate awareness on campus. The SPF focuses on funding student initiatives that reduce waste and increase sustainability at McGill. While the fund makes excellent small-scale changes, it does not adequately respond to the urgency of the climate crisis. Top climate scientists have repeatedly stated that individual action cannot stop the climate crisis without the support of large scale, institutional change. McGill must recognize this fact by not only funding student projects but also by committing itself to serious institutional-level change, starting with divesting from fossil fuels.

On Dec. 5, McGill’s Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR) met to consider divestment for the third time since students founded Divest McGill in 2012. The initial Divest McGill petition called for McGill to divest from the 14 companies that extract tar sands and an additional 13 that lobbied for Plan Nord, a natural resource extraction plan that the university invested in. 

The CAMSR meeting marked an opportunity for McGill to hear student voices and to recognize the science backing climate change and the social devastation that it causes. Yet, CAMSR voted to not divest, instead opting for decarbonization in a weak attempt to placate students and mask its complacency in climate destruction. The refusal to divest comes after years of protests, and most recently a moratorium on auxiliary fee increases by McGill’s undergraduate and post-graduate students’ societies to put financial pressure on McGill. The committee also chose to meet just before the final exam period began, when students were less available to stay informed, protest the vote, or attend the meetings. McGill’s refusal to divest sends a clear message that McGill’s values are more focused on funding than adhering to the concerns of their students, the surrounding community, or the planet. 

McGill’s refusal to divest not only ignores clear student demands but also neglects the extensive scientific research that backs the need for divestment. McGill prides itself on being a leader in research and indeed, in 2019, McGill employed dozens of staff whose entire careers have been dedicated to climate research. However, McGill has chosen to ignore extremely relevant evidence and continue to work against exactly what its experts would advise. 

CAMSR’s report also recommends that McGill reduce its carbon emissions by a certain percentage but does not specify what that percentage is. The fact that McGill could not even specify a clear aim demonstrates just how inept decarbonization is as an institutional goal. It is pertinent that McGill be explicit with its goals and commitments surrounding decarbonization. McGill’s students, alumni, and supporters deserve to know how committed the university is to playing its role in preventing further climate devastation.

Adding to the iniquity of CAMSR’s decision is the fact that the former director of retail services for PetroCan currently serves as the chair of CAMSR. Cynthia Price Verreault, worked as the director of retail services for PetroCan for 18 years. Given that PetroCan is one of the country’s largest fossil fuel producers, this affiliation poses a blatant conflict of interest. Thus, The McGill Tribune calls for Cynthia Price Verreault’s resignation from CAMSR.

While students should continue to support organizations like Divest McGill, C-JAM, and Greenpeace McGill, persuading McGill to take issues of climate justice and sustainability seriously will require more than that. The Tribune asks members of the McGill community to commit to not donating to McGill until they divest from fossil fuels. The wellbeing of countless ecosystems, species, and communities can not be ensured without the reversal of climate damage, and this reversal is not possible without institutional support.

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