Patrick Deane should champion fossil fuel divestment as Queen’s principal

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Patrick Deane, Queen’s incoming principal, should pledge his support to the students, faculty, and staff who want to see the University rid itself of more than $230 million of fossil fuel investments. 
 
Two months ago, hundreds of students rallied against inaction on climate change and divestment at Queen’s as part of a global climate strike demanding action from governments and institutions. 
 
Though support for fossil fuel divestment has never been stronger, since 2015, the administration’s response to the issue has been negligible. 
 
In 2015—the year a Queen’s advisory committee returned recommendations that the University keep its stake in the oil and gas industry—Deane, president of McMaster University at the time, was facing similar pressures of his own.  
 
That year, the McMaster chapter of Fossil Free, a divestment advocacy group, collected close to 1,000 signatures for a petition asking the University to divest from all holdings in funds involving fossil fuel companies. 
 
In response, Deane struck an advisory committee on fossil fuel divestment which, like Queen’s, returned recommendations not to divest from the companies. 
 
Instead, the report suggested 12 recommendations for McMaster to pursue, including sharing the carbon footprint of its investment portfolios with the public and holding town hall meetings on campus to address investment-related issues.  
 
Queen’s report, on the other hand, returned only five recommendations—none of which committed to similar provisions. Since the 2015 report, Queen’s stake in the oil and gas industry has remained largely consistent. 
 
Both reports failed to achieve what students, faculty and staff have long hoped for: divestment from an industry trying to denying young people a livable future. What’s clear from the critical responses to both reports is that, when it comes to the climate crisis, half-measures won’t cut it. 
 
The leaders pushing back against the divestment movement argue it’s ineffective, purely symbolic, and won’t contribute to broader change. They’re wrong. 
 
A recent study from the University of Sussex argues that, while divestment’s direct financial impacts on the industry are small right now, “there are signs that early adopters [of divestment] have begun a substantial asset movement worth $2.6 trillion.”  
 
When two thirds of global emissions can be attributed to 90 fossil fuel companies, we have no excuse to support their destructive industry, even if they’re donors or alumni of the University.  
 
Queen’s can lead on this issue—if it chooses to.  
 
Although the Board of Trustees has the final say, if Deane—who will have an ex officio seat on the Board—champions fossil fuel divestment, it could pressure them into acting.  
 
It’s time for our leaders to own up to their negligence on fossil fuel divestment and make a proactive decision, rather than wait until mounting pressure forces them to take action. 
 
Iain is The Journal’s Managing Editor. He is a fifth-year History student. 
 

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