Divest MTA presents demands, stages “birthmark tattoo” action

Climate change activist group Divest MTA presented a list of demands to the Board of Regents at an open meeting on Friday, Feb. 2. The group advocates for the divestment of university funds from fossil fuels attended the 9 a.m. meeting to outline its concerns and suggest a plan of action for the University to undertake.

Divest MTA displayed the already dangerous carbon levels in the atmosphere for the years when current students were born. Chaoyi Liang/Argosy

Divest’s members wore all black, with orange felt squares and pieces of paper stating the carbon level of the atmosphere the year they were born pinned to their shirts. Roughly 30 seats were reserved for Divest MTA members at the meeting.

Divest made four demands of the board: create an ad-hoc committee to analyze the University’s options for a divested endowment fund with a variety of investment firms; host a public forum to gain community opinions on divestment; make a report on these investigations available to the public by May 2018; and hold a vote either accepting or rejecting divestment by the board’s first meeting of the 2018-19 academic year.

Tina Oh, an organizer with Divest MTA, stressed the repercussions of climate change, particularly for young people. “In 1996, the year that I was born, there was 362 parts per million of carbon within the atmosphere,” she said. “Scientists have confirmed that 350 parts per million is the safe upper limit of carbon – which means that many students at Mount Allison right now, many young people who are standing in this room, were already born into a dying world.”

“The political climate concerning fossil fuels globally is changing,” said Louis Sobol, another Divest MTA organizer who spoke during the presentation. “As nations and communities reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, the industry suffers. Its social license erodes, and its viability will inevitably decrease.” Concluding Divest MTA’s statement, Sobol said, “Do the right thing. Be on the right side of history.”

Ron Outerbridge, the board chair, then opened up the floor for questions.

Board member Cheryl Hodder asked whether Divest MTA members would be interested in participating in local activities. Another board member, Sarah Young, asked Divest how they would prioritize their demands.

The end of Divest MTA’s presentation was met with applause from the board, after which Divest members left the meeting. In the lobby of the Student Centre, they gathered to receive and give “birthmark tattoos,” inspired by a 2015 protest at Tate Britain. Activists occupied a gallery and tattooed one another to protest the sponsorship of an art exhibit by oil company BP. The tattoos, like the pieces of paper Divest MTA members had pinned to their shirts, stated the atmospheric carbon level of individuals’ birth years.

Hanna Longard, another Divest MTA organizer, said she hoped the board would listen to the group’s demands. “I guess at this point I’m just hoping that they take us seriously and that they do put in the work that we’re asking,” she said. “I wish they had asked more questions. I would have really liked to see them engage more in this platform that they have here with us.”

Last year Divest MTA staged a number of actions in protest of Mt. A’s continued investment in fossil fuels, including a three-day campout in the academic quad and a sit-in at Centennial Hall last March. These actions were sometimes contentious for their escalation.

Inspired by a 2015 tattoo protest by climate change activists in Tate Britain, Divest MTA offered students a choice between temporary sharpie and permanent stick and pokes for their carbon level “birthmark” tattoos. Gillian Hill/Argosy

Divest MTA is “composed of Bell Scholars, we’re composed of members of the students’ union, we’re students that are very active within our own academic departments,” said Oh. “I understand maybe the Board of Regents thinking of us as students that are disruptive and radical even, but that couldn’t be further from the case.”

“Climate change and fighting climate injustice – it’s not just a student issue, it’s something that we’re carrying forward throughout our whole lives, and the tattoos are exemplary of that commitment to this cause,” said Longard. “This is something that is ongoing.”

“Moving forward, I think definitely we’ll wait to hear what the Board of Regents have to say about our recommendations,” said Oh.

Divest MTA meets every Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Avard Dixon 117. Their meetings are open to the public.

The Board of Regents has not yet announced any news about how it will address Divest MTA’s demands. Their next meeting is set for May 2018.

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