Dissolution of the CEA: unrealistic & irresponsible

Team LWT's sustainability plan lacks practicality in the long term

Charlotte Heller (left), Amy O’Rourke (middle) and Monique Ling (right) argue against the dissolution of the CEA.

On Jan 19, to the dismay of the campus environmental community, the AMS Assembly passed a motion to dissolve the Commission of Environmental Affairs (CEA).  

This motion will result in the distribution of the CEA committees — Youth Mentoring Youth, Greenovations and Students for Sustainability — under different pockets of the AMS, as well as the demotion of The Earth Centre and Queen’s Sustainability Conference to club status, jeopardizing their funding models.

The responsibilities of the Commissioner of Environmental Affairs will be split under the Vice President (University Affairs) and Vice President (Operations) portfolios, distributing oversight of sustainability groups among the Social Issues Commission and Municipal Affairs Commission, as well as the Student Life Centre.

While LWT’s “Strengthening Sustainability Throughout the AMS” press release states that this dissolution is a means of bringing a “renewed focus on the environment” and “deliver a more sustainable AMS and a more sustainable university”, we, as current members of the CEA and the Queen’s environmental community, see this motion as an ill-conceived failure to place sufficient value on campus environmentalism.  

Rather than following the example set in place by the initiation of Queen’s Climate Action Plan and strengthening their environmental commitments, the AMS executive has chosen to regress.

In 2011, when the CEA was created — turning the Sustainability Office into a full-on commission — the first commissioner, Adam DiSimine, told The Journal the change represented an important shift in the mindset towards sustainability projects. “Hopefully our organization is going to be able to become an umbrella for all of these other organizations and coordinate efforts a little bit more,” Disimine said.

In a recent interview for The Journal AMS President Tyler Lively wrongly noted a lack of collaboration within the CEA, as well as a failure to live up to expectations by the commission — which held successful Cogro Mug Days and the Room of Requirement’s Winter Coat Exchange campaigns. In terms of student engagement, this semester’s Sustainability Week, the result of close collaboration between various CEA groups and other campus environmental organizations, proved to be undoubtedly successful.

If Lively were to engage with the senior members of the CEA, all of whom writing this article he has never spoken to, he could benefit from free LED lightbulbs, an enlightened discussion regarding the state of environmentalism on campus or a cup of Cogro coffee on us, if he brings a reusable mug.

To say that the Commission of Environmental Affairs hasn’t been effective at promoting sustainability, is simply an error on his part for being out of touch. According to The Earth Centre’s fall 2016 finance records, compared to fall 2015, The Earth Centre’s sales have nearly doubled, meaning that it has grown as a utilized resource for students to obtain environmentally-responsible products.

As depicted in Greenovations’ 2015-16 records, last year the organization retrofitted 33 houses for free, the highest number of retrofits since the committee’s creation in 2007. This year saw the Room of Requirement create the Queen’s Winter Coat Exchange, a popular initiative met with great appreciation and local news coverage in The Kingston Whig Standard.

Yet, Lively noted the failure of the CEA to live up to expectations as one reason for its dissolution.  

Partnerships have arisen between the various groups under the CEA who have monthly meetings with the aim of collaboration. The ongoing lightbulb exchange in The Earth Centre, in which students can drop off old lightbulbs and get energy efficient LEDs for free, is a direct result of partnership between Greenovations and The Earth Centre. Where the AMS executive see a failure to meet expectations, there’s possibility for reform while maintaining the integrity of the CEA.

To divide environmental committees and resource centers and demote some to club status is to weaken the solidarity and communication of student groups working toward a sustainable campus.  

Not only were the motivations behind the dissolution ill-conceived, but the means in which the AMS executive executed the decision lacked transparency and consultation with those most familiar with environmental issues, including current and former members of the CEA and Sustainability Office staff.  

Despite being in discussion since the election of LWT in February of 2016, the dissolution of the CEA wasn’t included in their campaign platform, nor was the actual report outlining the proposed changes released on the AMS website or social media.  

When students tried to ask questions, and voice their concerns on the motion at AMS Assembly on Jan. 19, the assembly responded by limiting speaking time to one minute per person, and called the motion to a vote before members at large had the opportunity to speak.

How can the AMS claim to represent student interests when at the only opportunity for discussion, AMS Assembly proceeded to stifle the voices of concerned students?

The executive has preemptively moved to dissolve a needed commission before securing sustainable practices within the AMS.

The AMS cites the need for increased internal sustainability, yet made no commitments to improving environmentalism in the AMS in their platform and don’t hold other AMS commissions and corporate entities accountable to implement sustainable initiatives.

As it stands, there’s no guarantee that the AMS will ensure environmental issues remain a priority as key initiatives are divided among the remaining branches. A more reasonable approach would be to instead make the CEA obsolete through successful implementation of environmental mandates throughout the AMS.

When there is a problem, we usually form a committee to address the issue, not dissolve the only governing body trying to implement solutions. Although the current commission has been tasked with creating a long-term strategy, with no specific leadership to oversee its development moving forward the future of sustainability in the AMS and at Queen’s remains on thin ice.

Amy O’Rourke is a fourth-year Political Studies major and the Manager of Operations at The Earth Centre. Charlotte Heller is a fourth-year Environmental Science major and the Deputy of Special Projects within the CEA. Monique Ling is a fourth-year Global Development Studies major. 

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