McGill asserts divestment commitment after academic quits

University’s leader pledges effective climate response, not ‘symbolic’ actions

一月 20, 2020
Source: Getty

The head of Canada’s McGill University has said she is fully committed to divestment from the fossil fuel industry but will not relent to pressure to move faster in the aftermath of an academic’s resignation.

Suzanne Fortier, vice-chancellor of Montreal-based McGill, said an ongoing weeding-out had reduced stocks tied to fossil fuels to less than 2 per cent of the university’s C$1.7 billion (£1 billion) investment portfolio. Demands to move even faster, she said, amounted to “a symbolic gesture” that did not appear rational.

Professor Fortier was speaking after Gregory Mikkelson, an associate professor in McGill’s School of Environment, resigned after 18 years at the institution in response to the university’s decision not to liquidate all its fossil-fuel related holdings straight away.

Dr Mikkelson said it was impossible for him to teach the philosophy of biology and environmental ethics at McGill without the full divestment demanded by groups of students and staff, including the university senate. He also faulted the university’s timeline for achieving carbon neutrality in its campus operations by 2040.

Dr Mikkelson said he agreed with Professor Fortier that stocks associated with fossil fuels now made up only a small percentage of McGill’s holdings.

“Divestment would therefore be quite feasible for the university,” he said.

But Professor Fortier, who has led McGill since 2013, said the matter was more complicated, in part because some holdings were parts of funds whose constituent stocks were outside McGill’s immediate control. Other cases, she said, required more complex assessments of what exactly the companies were doing that might merit disqualification.

A review process that has been under way for about a year now is still three months from completion, Professor Fortier said. McGill remained unclear on just a few of the 200 companies named by divestment advocates, and believes that some other companies not on their list might also deserve exclusion, she said.

The move towards a carbon-neutral campus, meanwhile, will take even longer, Professor Fortier said, because of McGill’s many older buildings and research facilities.

The goal of 2040 was therefore reasonable, Professor Fortier said. “It is a very aggressive target, given the university plant that we have,” she said. “We know what we’re talking about here, and we’ve done the analysis.”

Dr Mikkelson dismissed pleas for more time on divestment, saying Professor Fortier’s promise of a decision by April would mean that McGill had taken 19 months since a clear majority of the senate called for it in September 2018. By comparison, he said, the University of California took only two months to comply with a similar faculty vote last July despite having a portfolio 10 times larger.

McGill’s policy also involves the “de-carbonisation” of its investments rather than divestment, Dr Mikkelson said, a definitional difference that he sees as excusing ongoing fossil fuel extractions. He said that he will soon begin seeking work “at some other organisation that is both more democratic and more sincerely committed to saving the planet”.

Professor Fortier described Dr Mikkelson’s resignation as a personnel matter that was therefore beyond her ability to discuss publicly.

But she said that she recognised the depth of concern for the matter across her campus. “I’m seeing more and more people being seized by the urgency to attack this issue,” Professor Fortier said.

“Most people understand that there’s not a silver bullet; there’s not one thing we will do and it will solve the problem. It has to be a very comprehensive plan of action, and one that will significantly alter the way we live and the way we work – everything we do.”

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

While I thank THE for their interest, this article inaccurately characterizes my disagreement with the McGill Board of Governors. I would be happy to see them commit to divesting our endowment from fossil fuel companies within any reasonable time frame. But on December 5th they explicitly rejected doing so on any time frame. See their report at https://www.mcgill.ca/boardofgovernors/files/boardofgovernors/13._gd19-29_camsr_report.pdf .

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玛丽·彼尔德(Mary Beard)最近承认自己是每周工作100小时“狂人”的推文引发热议。但学者们如此拼命工作合理吗?谁有权决定?这些学术狂人应当对此保持沉默吗?让我们听听这些学者怎么说

2月 20日