Opinions

An open letter to Divest MTA

Apr 05, 2017 Geoff Hutchinson

Climate change is terrifying. Abjectly terrifying. We live in one of the most environmentally volatile times that humanity has encountered, including the ice age. There is scientific consensus that climate change resulting from human activities is a fact. Most reasonable people see and recognize this and realize it is an issue that we can no longer afford to ignore. The information we have in our hands tells us that fossil fuels are inherently unsustainable. That’s not really the debate happening right now. Instead, the debate at the forefront of campus life is divestment: Should Mount Allison’s endowment fund contain investments that are linked to the large fossil fuel producers and refiners operating in Canada?

Divest MTA’s position is unequivocally “no,” and they state this with a commendable passion. Occupying a quad or an academic building, staging die-ins during Board of Regents meetings: These are tactics meant to demonstrate the depths of conviction held by these students. It should also be noted that the die-in conducted at the Board of Regents meeting was an extension of Divest MTA claiming that university administration would not engage with them in a meaningful dialogue, and that the occupation of Centennial Hall followed from this same claim.

We wholeheartedly agree that investment in alternative fuels should be a goal for all who care deeply about the future of the environment. There is no long-term alternative to development of sustainable energy. But watching via live stream the occupation of the administration’s office and ensuing negotiations between two of the student organizers and Robert Campbell left us feeling disenchanted with Divest MTA’s tactics and confused about their motivations. The resulting media releases via their Facebook page only served to exacerbate this confusion.

Divest MTA, what is your plan to prompt the University to divest its reported 5 per cent in the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies? As interested alum who agree with your vision, it’s hard to wholeheartedly throw ourselves behind your organization. You finally reached one of your goals when you occupied Centennial Hall, resulting in an audience with Dr. Campbell. The live videos from the negotiation were not an example of effective protest. They demonstrated that the claims being made are emotional, moralistic and made from a place of passion, but they had little to no facts, compromises or alternatives presented. They were just demands, made with the offices of Dr. Campbell acting the part of the hostage. This is not effective activism, and it will not lead to a workable solution.

Your characterization of the president’s difficulty in leaving his office (which you had made next to impossible to accomplish without physical discomfort on both his part and yours) was of “violence on a macro level”; this is in response to a human simply trying to leave his place of work. The only reason any sort of discomfort befell protestors is because they refused to yield the barest modicum of space for him to walk. To call Dr. Campbell’s actions physical violence is disrespectful to all those who have experienced true retaliation in response to their protests.

You had a real chance to make tangible progress toward divestment, and you used it to dump your frustration onto Dr. Campbell. Your group has repeatedly stated the university is refusing to listen to you, but when you finally got to the table with Dr. Campbell, he wasn’t the one refusing to listen. What you are doing is important, and you have so many allies who stand behind your vision of green energy and responsible investment. Effective activism results in change, and the tactics I’ve seen used so far aren’t doing this cause justice. We are willing to believe that the university hasn’t been receptive to you before, but you had a chance during your sit-in and squandered it.

If Divest MTA is serious about their stated goal, they should be willing to do more than attempt to be disruptive enough to force the University’s hand or bring tone-deaf charges of violence against administrators. If the administration wasn’t listening to you before, they are now. Work with them. Try to understand the challenges they are facing in moving toward divestment, and work with them to come up with a solution. Don’t just sit there and demand the University divest. Help them solve the problems preventing divestment. Or even better, come up with a practical and actionable plan to achieve your goals, outlining green investments that are good for the school and the planet.

We are proud of the students of Mt. A who obviously care so deeply about this cause, and helping to prove to the world that Allisonians are not only great students, but great citizens. Now it’s up to you, Divest MTA, to earn the garnet and gold that you bear so proudly.

Sincerely,

Geoff Hutchinson, Class of ‘12

Marshall Thomas, Class of ‘13