Mount Allison students, who are members of the group Divest MTA, continued their four-year campaign Monday to persuade the university to shed its investments in big fossil fuel companies.
The students urged Jean-Paul Boudreau, the new Mt. A. president, to take a public stand on the issue by the end of the fall semester on December 4.
However, during a friendly, hour-long meeting, the students met some resistance from Boudreau and Ron Outerbridge, Chair of the Board of Regents (BOR), the university’s highest governing body.
Fighting climate change
The meeting began with MTA Divest member Hanna Longard saying that while individuals should take steps to fight climate change, institutions can have a much greater impact by withdrawing their investments in fossil fuels.
“At least 991 institutions worldwide have committed to fossil fuel divestment already removing $7.18 trillion from the industry,” Longard said. She added that the government of Ireland, the City of New York and Yale University are among the institutions that have shed their investments in big oil, gas and coal companies.
“Divest MTA is a student-led political group asking our university to remove its investments from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies,” Longard said, adding that in 2017, the university had endowment fund investments in 70 or more of these companies.
“As students, we were sold the idea of Mount Allison University as a progressive liberal arts institution,” she said. “We were disappointed to learn that our university is complicit in an industry that is harming people, the planet and our future.”
Longard also outlined the three main demands of the international fossil fuel divestment movement: A fast transition to renewable energy; no new fossil fuel projects anywhere and “not a penny more for dirty energy.”
Several other students spoke about the urgent need to fight climate change in light of the most recent international scientific report warning that if fundamental changes in all aspects of society aren’t made within 12 years, the world will face increased risk of catastrophic droughts, floods, extreme heat and poverty.
Jean-Paul Boudreau responded by thanking the students for their “multiple years of engagement on this issue.”
“I have to say I’m really impressed with the efforts that have been made by this university, we punch well above our weight,” he said, adding that while there’s more work to do to offset climate change, “I think it’s important to pause and to appreciate the achievements that this university has done.”
Other ways to fight climate change
Ron Outerbridge, chair of the Board of Regents (BOR) said the 24-member board, which includes faculty and student representatives, is responsible for the university’s investments and is always open to a dialogue about them.
“I’m proud of Mount Allison and what we’ve done for environmental [issues] and climate change,” Outerbridge said. “It is a complicated matter and…trying to figure out exactly the best way to address it is a challenge.”
He added that while the BOR recognizes that “climate change is one of our most pressing issues,” there are many ways to address it including changing people’s behaviour, a point also made earlier by President Boudreau.
Outerbridge suggested that since climate change is caused by greenhouse gas emissions, it might make more sense to focus on the largest industrial polluters rather than the fossil fuel companies that produce oil and gas.
Dan Nowlan, chair of the BOR’s investment committee, promised that at the committee’s next meeting, likely before the end of the year, MTA Divest will be invited to give a presentation.
To read the university’s official position on climate change and responsible investing, click here.
Later in Monday’s meeting, when Divest MTA member Naia Noyes-West said scientific experts recognize that divestment is a highly effective solution in fighting climate change, Robert Inglis, the university’s vice president of finance, wondered if divestment is a solution because it’s a political response or because it would change how the fossil fuel companies operate.
“I would say both,” MTA Divest member Catherine Turnbull answered. “We know that divestment works to take the social licence away from large industries or regimes like [South African] apartheid, like the tobacco industry,” she said, adding that divestment is therefore, both political and financial.
MTA member Adrian Kiva warned President Boudreau that Divest MTA would continue to press its demands for divestment from fossil fuels.
“You know that climate change is not going to go away and neither is Divest MTA,” Kiva said.
“If today you say ‘no’ to Divest, you’re going to have to continue saying no to Divest every semester of your tenure, at every meeting where it comes up, every time when a journalist asks you,” he added. “If you say ‘yes,’ you only have to say yes to it once.”
Kiva suggested that members of Divest MTA share in values that the Mt. A. president had expressed, the values of sustainability and engagement.
“We’re here to make that offer for you to join us and be part of the structural battle against climate change,” he concluded.