Mt. A students again ask university governing board to shed investments in big oil

Written by Bruce Wark on February 3, 2018

Louis Sobol and Tina Oh outside Mount Allison University’s Board of Regents meeting in January. Photo by Bruce Wark.

Students activists are again urging Mount Allison’s highest governing body to join a growing worldwide movement and withdraw the university’s investments from big fossil fuel companies.

“Do the right thing, be on the right side of history,” Louis Sobol of the group Divest MTA said to members of the university’s Board of Regents during a formal presentation on Feb. 2.

It was the first time in Mount Allison’s 179-year history that the Board has held one of its regular meetings in public.

Sobol told the Regents that most scientists agree an additional temperature increase of two degrees Celsius would cause sea levels to rise dramatically engulfing towns like Sackville that are close to the ocean.

“If the very destruction of the land on which you sit is not enough to provoke change,” he added, “let the millions of deaths in the global south and elsewhere that have already begun to occur, dwell on your conscience.”

Costs of a changing climate

Tina Oh, who has been an organizer with Divest MTA since 2015, pointed to the widespread destruction caused by hurricanes that devastated parts of the Caribbean last summer and that forced six million people in Florida to flee their homes, the largest mass migration in U.S. history.

“Last year was the hottest year ever to be recorded,” she said, adding that it broke records set in 2016 and 2015 creating ideal conditions for forest fires in British Columbia and Portugal along with monsoons that left parts of Bangladesh, Nepal and India under water.

“This is the new reality for life on our planet,” she said.

Specific requests

Oh asked the Board to appoint a special committee to study how various investment firms would handle divesting from fossil fuels and to compile a comprehensive report analyzing long-term options and costs.

She said that as part of its work, the committee should hold a town hall at Mount Allison to gather opinions on fossil fuel divestment that would also be submitted in a report to the Board of Regents before its next meeting in May.

Oh said both reports should be made public.

Finally, she asked the Board to hold a vote during its meeting in October “to either reject or accept fossil fuel divestment of Mount Allison University’s endowment fund.”

Later, Oh said between five and seven per cent of Mt. A’s endowment fund investments are in the top 500 publicly traded fossil fuel companies. For a complete list of the university’s endowment fund holdings, click here. To read a statement about Mt. A’s endowment fund investment policies, click here.

Board of Regents chair Ron Outerbridge thanked the students for their presentation and promised he would get back to them once the Board has a chance to discuss their requests. He explained afterwards that the discussion would not be happening today, but at a later date.

Birthmark tattoos 

Shannon Power (right) gets birthmark number 360 from tattoo artist Lou Van Aardt (left). Photo by Bruce Wark.

After their presentation, the students adjourned to the student centre foyer outside the Board meeting where they staged a demonstration to call attention to the steadily rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Several students got tattoos showing the number in parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the year they were born.

Shannon Power was born in 1995 when the level had reached 360 ppm, above the 350 ppm that some scientists consider a safe level. (That level was exceeded in 1988.)

Power said students of her generation have never known a time when climate change was not a threat to life on the planet.

Her words echoed Tina Oh’s earlier ones to the Board of Regents.

“The young people who are currently in this room were already born into a dying world,” she said.

“For young people,” Oh added, “climate change has always been the most pressing issue.”

For a report showing how Divest MTA fits into the campaign on campuses across Canada for fossil fuel divestment, click here.

This story was first published by Wark Times. 

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