What is fossil fuel divestment?
McGill University invests a $1.3 billion pool of money, called an endowment, to help fund the university and as a source of emergency cash. The purpose of an endowment is to make money without taking too much risk. The endowment fund contributes to approximately 1% of McGill’s operating budget.
Divestment is the opposite of investment – it means getting rid of stocks, bonds, or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous and investing elsewhere instead.
McGill’s Board of Governors has already placed several ethical guidelines on the endowment (they divested previously from Apartheid South Africa and tobacco companies). The purpose of this campaign, for now, is therefore to add some new ethical guidelines to the way McGill invests. Fossil fuel investments and the tar sands are a risk for investors and the planet – that’s why we’re calling on McGill to divest.
Personal divestment is good and university divestment is better. North American universities have an estimated endowment of $400 billion. That’s enough money to put fossil fuel industries on the defensive. McGill’s endowment and pension funds alone invest about $2 billion dollars. Most individuals can’t make that kind of difference. But it is essential to remember that divestment is not just an economic tactic.
Universities, in their role as a centre for education and research, are also the moral, ethical, scientific, and cultural beacons of our societies. Universities are a special place for the creation of a better future. When universities invest in fossil fuel companies it legitimizes them tremendously. University divestment from fossil fuel companies revokes their legitimacy, otherwise known as their “social license to operate.” We may not be able to revoke their legal license to operate through divestment but it does encourage a perception in public consciousness and discourse that fossil fuel companies who don’t meet our criteria have an illegitimate business model. This is precisely what has already happened, for example, with tobacco companies. As a result, their political power – especially in the US – has plummeted.
Other ways of fighting global warming must go on in tandem. Divestment isn’t an isolated solution. Fortunately, there are movements at over 700 campuses across the world. Together, divestment can make a big difference.
Divest McGill is a campaign calling on McGill university to address the urgency of climate change by divesting its endowment from the fossil fuel industry. We are part of a movement of over 1200 other fossil fuel divestment campaigns worldwide working towards climate justice.
We began our campaign in the Fall of 2012, and now have over 2000 signatures on our petition from students, staff, faculty & alumni, and endorsements from all 3 major student associations. After presenting to the McGill Board of Governors’ Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR) in Spring 2013, they ruled not to divest from fossil fuel companies, citing ‘insufficient evidence of social injury’ despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In Winter 2015, we submitted a 150+ page research brief on the connections between fossil fuel companies, social injury, and environmental degradation. After presenting again to CAMSR, we have been met with delays and deliberation and no real response to our requests for divestment.
The science is clear: carbon emissions are causing rapid climate change worldwide. Students across Canada are taking action to stop the exploitation of the tar sands and to begin the transition away from fossil fuels. In light of our obligations to the planet and to each other, we call on McGill University to divest its holdings in the tar sands and fossil fuel companies.
To learn more about Divest McGill, please visit our website at divestmcgill.com