In considering divestment

The threat of climate change calls for a response from young people and the institutions that cater to them. University divestment from fossil fuel companies should be seriously considered going forward.

Students at the University of British Columbia, the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University have voted in favour of their student governments encouraging university administrators to divest from the fossil fuel industry. These actions should be seen in the context of the wider divestment movement that hopes to catalyze youth action against climate change.

The revival of environmental consciousness that the divestment movement represents is good to see. There was a much larger discourse about being “green” in years past. While interest in environmental issues has somewhat dissipated, the circumstances are more pressing than ever before.

Universities should be more inclined to social responsibility than other institutions as they are educating young people and should be somewhat responsive to them. Universities, including Queen’s, should strive to be more transparent and democratic when it comes to inquiries and requests from the student body.

While establishing a strict line in terms of ethical investment is difficult, administrators should attempt to compromise with the concerns of their constituencies.

In the specific case of fossil fuel companies, while they are economic giants that ensure a strong economy and provide employment, their long term viability is in question. The unfortunate reality is that a substantial amount of the world’s fossil fuel reserves can’t be burned if we want to avoid runaway climate change.

Divestment isn’t a new tactic; it worked to help end apartheid in South Africa. While divesting from fossil fuel companies might not yield effects as immediately, this new movement hopes to get young people thinking about climate change on an ongoing basis. Moreover, studies have shown that investment portfolios that exclude fossil fuel and coal companies might actually perform better than those that don’t.

While the long history of environmental activism on the west coast means schools there may get action from their administrators, a similar situation at Queen’s is unlikely. Queen’s student body can be apathetic and we have faculties, like Engineering and Commerce, which are heavily entwined with the fossil fuel industry.

However, just because a divestment campaign would run up against the Queen’s establishment, doesn’t mean the dialogue shouldn’t be brought to campus. Regardless of the outcome, we’ll be better for the debate.

— Journal Editorial Board

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