KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Having just passed the one-week mark, our student-led encampment at the heart of Dalhousie University campus is officially the longest campout for fossil fuel divestment to ever take place on a Canadian campus.
If you haven’t heard about us before, Divest Dal is a student-led campaign to get Dalhousie University to remove investments from the greatest contributors to the climate crisis — massive coal, oil, and gas companies. Despite relentless pressure from students since 2013, Dalhousie continues to invest in these companies. Recently, our team decided that it was time to up the pressure on the university. We believe a better world is possible and we’re willing to brave the cold to fight for it.
We’re camping out because climate change is a crisis that cannot be addressed without a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels to a 100% renewable energy economy — a transition that won’t happen until institutions around the world break from the stranglehold of the fossil fuel industry. We take action because Indigenous peoples and others on the front lines of climate impacts and resource extraction are fighting for their very existence, and we aren’t going to let them fight alone. As young people, we have to take action because it’s our futures at stake.
We’re happy to report that our pressure has worked: we’ve been offered a chance to speak at Wednesday’s BOG meeting. It has been three years since divestment was on the table at the Board level, and at the time that it was, a majority of the Board members voted against it — including Board members with direct ties to the fossil fuel industry. They had two excuses: fiduciary duty, and that divestment wouldn’t work.
This vote was made on the basis of a report written in by the Investment Committee, led by the committee Chair at the time, George McLellan. After spending countless hours preparing research in the years leading up to the vote, Dal students criticized the report for lacking depth, and for failing to include a single reference the students had brought forward. The research the Board produced, they said, would have passed in an introductory economics class, if it was lucky. But it also ignored that the underlying reason we were calling for divestment in the first place.
The report made divestment out to be a fringe idea — which is far from reality. While administrators at this university have avoided our call to action, there’s been a massive upswing in the number of institutions that have divested globally. To date, over 800 institutions and almost 60,000 individuals worldwide have divested over $5.5 trillion dollars. This includes institutions like the Canadian Medical Association and Laval University in Quebec, but also the London School of Economic, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, and big banks like ING.
The Board also voted against divestment despite widespread support both on and off-campus. The Dalhousie Student Union was one of the first bodies in the university to give their support — and soon after divested their own funds. Not to mention the fact that the issue of divestment has brought record numbers of students out to Board meetings — reaching upwards of 400 students on the day the board was set to vote. Then hundreds of individual endorsements from Faculty flowed in, followed by an endorsement by the Dalhousie Faculty Association, as well as Dalhousie’s Senate.
The Senate even went on to conduct a campus-wide study on divestment after the Board vote, which included both consultation with students, faculty and staff, and peer-reviewed research led by an expert panel. It resulted in a report that explicitly recommended a policy for divestment that was closely aligned with the vision of Divest Dal. An ad hoc committee formed after the release of the Senate report was slated to report back to Senate in October of 2016 on an implementation strategy, but has yet to do so. Thankfully, last month a student was appointed to the committee, who plans to push this process along.
Of course, divestment isn’t the only issue the university has failed to face. At the last Board of Governors meeting in October, Kati George-Jim, a student Board member and Indigenous woman, recounted treatment from the Chair of the Dalhousie Board of Governors, and illuminated the structural racism that exists even in the highest decision making body of this university. That same week in October, Dalhousie Student Union Vice President, Masuma Khan went public with the news that she was facing a disciplinary hearing at the Dalhousie Senate for defending herself against racist, Islamophobic attacks made in response to a post she made on her personal Facebook page. The university’s wholly inadequate response to both situations, has highlighted the importance of our student-led justice work.
Climate, racial, and gender justice are inextricably linked. The biggest fossil fuel companies in the world — including Shell, BP, Exxon — have caused immense harm to Indigenous and racialized communities around the world through extraction, disproportionality burdening communities of colour and destroying the land and water on which Indigenous communities livelihoods and cultures thrive. The impacts of climate change similarly affect marginalized communities first and worst — the people with less means to respond and recover.
In the face of such a crisis, and with the growing evidence for divestment, there simply are no more excuses for inaction.
Beside our tents is a statue to celebrate the University’s 200 year anniversary. But when I look at it, I can’t help thinking about the future. What will the next 200 years look like? If our decision makers don’t have the backbone to stand up to the fossil fuel industry, it’ll mean an unlivable climate for all. At the end of the day, what we want is a climate that is safe and just for all, which, really, is not so radical at all.
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