President’s Speaker Series brings more support to fossil fuel divestment

Dr. David Suzuki, world-renowned Canadian environmentalist, has officially endorsed Mt. A’s divestment from fossil fuels.

“I think it’s a disgrace and anybody associated with the university that takes climate change seriously should be embarrassed by this. If not embarrassed, ashamed,” said Suzuki during his virtual appearance at Mt. A’s President’s Speakers Series on November 18.

The University of British Columbia, the University of Victoria, Laval University, the University of Toronto, and even Harvard University are among hundreds of universities who have committed partially or fully to divesting from the fossil fuel industry, but Mt. A has not yet joined the list.

The question of divesting from fossil fuels was posed by Divest Mt. A, a student-led group that advocates for universities’ divestment from fossil fuels.

“Divestment is the opposite of investment, so it means you’re taking money out of an industry essentially. The divestment of fossil fuels movement comes from previous divestments, like for cigarettes and for apartheids in South Africa,” explained Helen Yao, a fourth year sociology student at Mt. A and one of the student organizers of Divest.

Both the International Energy Agency and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have released reports explaining the existential crisis at hand, and the risk that a 1.5 degree increase in the global temperature rise poses to humanity. “At least 80 percent of the known fossil fuel reserves needs to be kept in the ground, and that’s definitely not what the fossil fuel industry plans to be doing,” Yao said about achieving the bare minimum to save the planet.

Mt. A was one of the first universities to support the movement by allowing Mt. A Divest to be founded in 2013. However, it is one of the few founding universities that has not yet achieved divestment.

Yao said that the administration’s approach to divesting is ‘condescending.’

“[Dr. Boudreau] has kind of just been, like, ‘oh, I applaud your passion,’” said Yao. “It feels a little bit condescending when time goes on, like when they’re not really engaging with what issue you’re bringing.”

The presentation with Dr. Suzuki was met with an overall positive reaction from the Mt. A and Sackville communities. “Overall [Divest] had a really positive reaction from the university community… later on [a Mt. A alum] also went up and asked a similar question and called on alumni to not donate to the university until divestment happens. So we were really happy to see that support from a lot of our professors and students,” said Yao.

Attendees reported that the administration at the event did not directly respond to Dr. Suzuki’s comments on Mt. A’s lack of divestment.

“We sit down with the administration at least once [a year] and we do talk to them and I’m not sure what I would say at this point because every meeting is very competitive. We get the same arguments given to us,” she explained.

From Divest’s point of view, it is hard to understand the administration’s continued pushback from divesting. However, with overwhelming support from the Mt. A and Sackville communities, Yao believes that change can come.

Yao believes the changes that the Mt. A administration has committed to do not address the severity of the climate situation. She finds that the university will only commit to small changes and is worried about the substantial and sensitive timeline needed for change.

Yao also believes that the COVID-19 pandemic presented evidence that the university is capable of making immediate changes towards the community. “For the COVID-19 pandemic now, I was able to adopt a lot of strategies to change a lot of things really quick, really efficiently, to ensure the community is safe, so we should be treating the climate crisis in the same manner,” she said. “We know we’re capable of doing it.”

“I don’t think it’s time for me or other people to politely ask them because we’ve politely asked them for a very long time. Now it’s kind of a matter of, ‘okay, what do you value?” Yao explained. “Like the future of your students? And do you value the voices of the students and their concerns? And do you want to actively work with students to kind of develop a solution that will keep all of us safe?”

“I was very happy with Dr. Suzuki’s response,” said Yao. “I wasn’t expecting him to go all out… but I hope Dr. Boudreau and everyone who’s listening who holds power in this institution can reflect on those words. It’s hard to speak out, it’s scary. There could be backlash, but think of what’s at stake.”

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