Last Friday’s climate strike brought the climate crisis to the forefront of public conversation. There is an ever-growing awareness of the dire reality of the climate emergency: if immediate, far-reaching action is not taken, there will be major harm to ecosystems and loss of life.
A 2018 report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that, in order to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C, carbon dioxide emissions would need to fall by about 45 per cent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.
Research tells us that the climate emergency is an existential threat requiring immediate, far-reaching action. It is clear that our reliance on fossil fuels is unsustainable.
In order to properly address the climate emergency, we need rapid and unprecedented changes in every facet of society. We need to move away from our extraction-based economy that prioritizes growth and resource extraction, towards a justice-centred approach.
Currently, the university employs measures to understand and address climate change, including the McMaster Centre for Climate Change and the SUSTAIN program. McMaster also tracks and reports on its sustainability measures every year.
However, McMaster is more than just a research institution: the University has considerable financial, social and political power that it needs to use to push for far-reaching change.
Piecemeal solutions like banning plastic bags and reducing buildings’ energy consumption are good steps in the right direction, but they are not nearly enough.
Despite claiming to support pro-environment movements, McMaster provides financial support to the fossil fuel industry.
As of last year, $35.96 million, or 4.3 per cent, of McMaster’s endowment fund was invested in fossil fuel companies. By investing in the fossil fuel industry, the university provides not only financial support, but also social license to the very industries that are harming the planet. By continuing to fund the fossil fuel industry, McMaster helps to uphold a system that is completely unsustainable.
According to the Carbon Majors Database, 71 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 can be traced back to just 100 fossil fuel companies. Furthermore, pipelines and other dangerous projects have violated Indigenous land rights in order to extract fossil fuels.
Moving away from this economic system is a much larger discussion, but one tangible step that McMaster can take is to pull investments from the university’s divestment fund out of fossil fuel companies.
Divestment is not an end goal, but is a tactic that aims to “name and shame” the fossil fuel industry. It is morally reprehensible to profit off of the destruction of the planet, and pulling investments out of fossil fuel companies sends a clear message of condemnation.
In 2015, students, staff and faculty members issued petitions urging the university to divest from fossil fuel companies. Former president Patrick Deane struck an advisory committee, which came back with 12 recommendations for McMaster to pursue instead of full divestment.
More recently, MacGreenInvest, a McMaster faculty organization, issued a petition calling on McMaster to divest fossil fuel investments from McMaster’s endowment fund, and reinvest the funds in green renewable energy companies. As of Wednesday afternoon, the petition had over 1,000 signatures on Change.org.
McMaster prides itself on being a leader in sustainable development. It is unconscionable that they pay for this work by investing into companies that profit off of harming the environment.