That only four councillors who thought it appropriate to vote in favour of the MASU adopting a position on sustainable and responsible investment is astounding. A quick glance at The Argosy’s coverage of the debate in the Council chambers last Monday should have most of Mount Allison’s student politicians hiding under tables. Arguments against supporting divestment from fossil fuels ranged from incredulously comical to embarrassingly fallacious.
Understandably, Divest MTA’s work is not complete – as I have pointed out numerous times to their leaders, they still need a better answer to the Harvard question that still looms over similar divestment campaigns – nor is their campaign strategy always as impactful as it could be. But their growth and maturation over the past three years is a very strong sign of encouragement.
Students have traditionally played a leadership role on environmental issues at Mt. A, more so recently. In 2013, with the administration and faculty at an impasse over who should lead the school’s sustainability efforts, it was a student, Graham May, who found the MASU-backed solution. The compromise saw a student-appointed chair of the Environmental Issues Committee for the first time in the university’s history. The chair is also joined by up to four students on the Committee, representing the different collections of campus sustainability efforts such as Eco-Action and the MASU’s own sustainability committee, whose co-ordinator oversees a sizeable pot of money for local sustainability projects.
When you add these to the relentless persistence and research excellence of the geography and environment students, one cannot make decisions on the environment at Mt. A, or even in Sackville, without hearing the student perspective. Students are an integral component of the community’s ongoing discussion about its response to climate change and the sustainability challenges of our time. However, a lack of unified student leadership on campus over the past several years has resulted in the university’s slow withdrawal of its environmental priorities. We have witnessed the elimination of the university’s Green Evolving Fund, the failure to establish an in-house sustainability office, and the closure of the university’s sustainable residence.
MASU councillors had the opportunity to define the future of this institution and its national contributions, an opportunity at which they failed spectacularly. Misguided by short term-ness and ignorance – the fiduciary argument becomes decreasingly viable as studies after studies have indicated that changes on investment returns are negligible post-divestment and, in some cases, even positive within five years – Mt. A’s elected leaders came up short and, yet again, national leadership from this school goes begging.
I do not expect the Divest MTA team to be disheartened; they know where the weaknesses in their argument are and will doubtless continue to strengthen their case to the student body. One can only hope that the next time the question is called, there might be a touch more courage in the room.