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SSMU’s new climate change policy causes tension

In the wake of an 11-month period of discussions, consultations, and revisions, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) has adopted a new climate change policy. The policy, which passed through Legislative Council on Oct. 15, outlines SSMU’s framework for climate justice. New legislations include avoiding investments in the fossil fuel industry, encouraging the purchase of products from companies that display a strong commitment to sustainability, and lobbying the university for increased research funding and internship opportunities in fields such as renewable energy.

According to SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Emily Boytinck, the initial idea for a climate change policy arose during the previous academic year, and was met with overwhelming support from students.

“SSMU was mandated to bring forward a climate change policy at the Fall 2014 General Assembly through [a] motion regarding action on climate change,” Boytinck said. “This motion, which also specified support for anti-pipeline activism, passed by nearly 80 per cent in an online referendum.”

A preliminary policy was brought forward by the 2014-2015 VP External, Amina Moustaqim-Barrette, during the final council meeting of the year. The policy was tabled until this fall to allow for for further edits and consultation with students.

“At that time, this policy had general support amongst the majority of the student body, but showed opposition from the Faculty of Engineering,” Boytinck said. “The most controversial section, [which] specified opposition to the presence of fossil fuel companies on campus, [was] removed and various clauses that display support for jobs and research opportunities in renewable energies were added.”

President of the Co-op Mining Engineering Undergraduate Society (CMEUS), Michael Andrew, was involved in this revision process. During the Oct. 15 SSMU Council meeting where the final draft of the policy was presented, however, he stated that the concessions SSMU made were not enough to illicit a positive response from all engineering students.

“I would like to express my thanks to Emily for being very open to changing a lot of things that were in [the policy],” he said. “[For example] instead of saying ‘against the oil sands,’ [it was changed to] ‘promoting sustainable energy.’ That’s great, but when [a policy] directly impacts our careers and our line of work, that’s where we need to draw the line. Having this political movement […] is not in the best interest of my constituents, [….] I’ve brought this up to my fellow students and did not receive a single comment of support on this motion.”

Andrew acknowledged issues of sustainability, while emphasizing the fact that oil sands extraction will continue to occur, despite the implementation of such a policy.

“I know there are a few [engineering students] involved with Divest McGill on the sustainability side, and I’m not against the sustainability side of the argument,” he said. “I understand that carbon is a limited resource; what I’m saying is that it’s no question these [resources] will [continue to] be extracted.”

Despite this resistance, Boytinck expressed confidence in the policy’s ability to meet the needs of the McGill community as a whole.

“Overall, I feel confident that the policy has a strong scientific basis, an important focus on climate justice, and widespread appeal for the student body at large,” she said.

Arts Representative to SSMU, Adam Templer, noted that overall reactions from the student body have been positive following the passage of the policy.

“The feedback I have received since the motion passed has so far been very supportive,” he said. “I think that is a testament to how open Council was to collaborate with concerned parties [….] I know that students were particularly happy to see the scope of the policy clearly defined where it was originally very much open to interpretation.”

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