a, Letters to the Editor, Opinion

Letter: Divest McGill turns one year old

About a year and a half ago, Bill McKibben wrote an article in Rolling Stone magazine outlining the climate crisis and urging the world to take action against its main perpetrator, the fossil fuel industry. This call to action saw the conception of over 400 divestment campaigns around the world, and six months later, gave birth to Divest McGill.

If you’re a student at McGill today, you most likely grew up learning about climate change and the myriad of environmental crises facing our planet. But it can be hard to appreciate just how urgent climate change is.

In the year since the beginning of our campaign, we’ve released 31 gigatons of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. That’s 6.5 per cent of the 469 gigatons of CO2 equivalent scientists say we cannot surpass without facing irreversible and catastrophic climate change. This means that if Divest McGill is still around for its 15th birthday, we will have already surpassed this carbon budget.

Of particular interest to us as members of this institution is the fact that Canada’s tar sands hold upwards of 400 gigatons, a staggering 85 per cent of the global carbon budget. And, of particular interest to us as young adults is the increasing rate of hurricanes, floods, droughts, sea level rise, and tropical disease to which we’re condemning ourselves and our children.

The fossil fuel industry is pushing for the destruction of our planet. They drive relentlessly for the continued consumption of oil and other resources, they lobby against stronger climate change policy and obfuscate the truth about climate science. By targeting them, we can begin meaningful progress in the fight against climate change. In December 2012, McGill had around $29.2 million invested in the fossil fuel industry in a $1 billion fund known as the endowment. McGill has already divested from tobacco companies as well as those involved in Myanmar because McGill deemed those investments to be against its values.

As a university, McGill is a moral beacon for society and this impacts public attitude. When a series of universities divested from tobacco beginning in the ’90s, we saw a string of new anti-tobacco legislation across the globe. As highlighted in a recent study from Oxford, divestment campaigns serve to delegitimize and stigmatize the industries it targets and have catalyzed large-scale legislative change.

While we need to continue encouraging individual actions like biking instead of driving or eating less meat, these actions alone will not be enough. The core business plan of the fossil fuel industry—to burn through the planet’s carbon reserves—is a threat to our very survival on this planet, and their focus on short-term profits means they will continue to defend their ability to carry out this business plan with all the wealth and political power they possess. Fighting climate change successfully will require limiting the social, financial, and political power these companies have, and divestment is an important start to this. Along with over 400 campuses and other institutions across the world, we are calling on McGill to divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies that plan to extract more carbon than our climate can afford.

McGill’s divestment would give us all a better chance of a livable future.

The McGill community is responding with real momentum to our call for action on climate change. Divest McGill gained mandates from the three major student unions (The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU); the Post Graduate Students Society (PGSS); and the Macdonald Campus Students’ Society, representing over 30,000 students), campus groups, workers unions, and in just a few months over 1200 signatures from students, faculty, alumni, and staff. With this backing, last winter we presented to the Board of Governors’ Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR) as to why McGill should divest from the fossil fuel industry.

Despite this overwhelming support, and the undeniable evidence that investing in the fossil fuel industry is a threat to society, we were deeply disappointed CAMSR didn’t recommend fossil fuel divestment to the Board of Governors.

But climate change isn’t going away, so neither are we; we’re going to continue turning up the heat on campus before it gets too hot to live on our own planet. Keep an eye out for Divest McGill’s actions and events this year as we mature into our terrible twos, and join the fastest growing divestment movement in history.

Find out more, and sign our petition at www.divestmcgill.com


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