McGill students erect tent city over school’s fossil fuel holdings

Students protest McGill University's fossil fuel holdings. PHOTO COURTESY: Divest McGill (Divest McGill)

A cluster of tents is spread across Community Square on the McGill campus this week, as students protest the university’s financial holdings in fossil fuel companies.

Julianna Duholke, one of the organizers with Divest McGill, says the students have been petitioning the school for two years to completely divest in the non-renewable fuel.

“We’re asking them to at least freeze their investments in fossil fuels while they deliberate their investments,” she tells Yahoo Canada News.

The pressure to get universities to divest funds from fossil fuels is taking place on campuses across North America and Europe. Last year, Concordia became the first Canadian university to divest, following the lead of such schools as the University of California and the University of Glasgow.

The divestment movement has spread from universities, churches and institutions to include large pensions and insurance companies, according a new report by Arabella Advisors.

In August, the United Church of Canada became the latest religious organization in the country to sell off its investments in fossil fuels because of concerns about the long-term impact on the planet. The Church of England made a similar move in April, and Pope Francis called for a more socially responsible approach to investment and finance during a speech at the Vatican in June.

Duholke says at present, there hasn’t been much action from the university, as the protesters have been told they still need more time to deliberate and will discuss the issue at their next meeting. According to the group, the school has over $70-million of its $1 billion endowment funds invested in fossil fuels.

Divest McGill’s demonstration manifested as a tent city as a result of the school’s lack of action. Instead of blockading classes, protesters choose to take a more peaceful route that illustrated how serious they were. They’ve been asking people to sign petitions to be presented to administrators, including 100 professors. In total, about 20 people are stationed at the campsite, with about 10 tents set up.

Demonstrators intend to stay there for a week, and have organized an itinerary of events to educate the community.

“We’re hoping they see this and will respond with action on their part,” Duholke says.

The group sees McGill’s investment in fossil fuels as hypocritical, since the school is behind world-renown climate change research, involving researchers and professors who stand behind Divert McGill’s goals.

“The fact that there’s this huge amount of hypocrisy…but it doesn’t really listen to its own scientists at all,” says Duholke.

She refers to a report that was released on behalf of 110 prominent North American scientists and researchers, which called to stop the expansion of the tar sands.

A number of the signatures were from McGill researchers. Olivier Marcil, McGill’s vice-principal of communication and external relations, says the file is being reviewed by a sub-committee of the board of governors committee, which is responsible for the investments of the university’s endowment funds. The sub-committee’s specific mandate is to review matters of social responsibility.

“There’s a clear process that is being followed,” he says. “They are studying the file. The next meeting we’ll have a clearer indication of what will happen regarding the ask from the demonstrators.”

The next meeting will take place in October.