We are members of Divest Dalhousie, and we will continue working until Dalhousie University divests its endowment from the fossil fuel industry. On November 25th, fifteen members of our Board of Governors voted to continue investing in the top 200 companies with the largest carbon reserves.
They acknowledged that climate change is a critical issue of our time, and they agreed that bold action is required if we are to confront it. They then denounced divestiture as a means to that end, and decided that the livelihoods of future generations simply weren’t worth it. They stated that they were simply too committed to the benefits of certain corporate relationships to take the bold action needed. Not only this, but the Dalhousie Board of Governors also dismissed a call from Board members to look into this issue further. They have stated their unwillingness to act. Loud and clear.
The Board’s decision sent the message that they think that they know better than students and the academic community at Dalhousie. They were unwilling to heed calls from the Dalhousie Faculty Association, The Dalhousie Student Union, and the Kings’ Student Union. They failed to consider strong calls for divestment from the IPCC, Ban Ki-moon, Desmond Tutu, Elizabeth May, David Suzuki Maude Barlow, and countless more.
What did happen? The Board agreed to implement consideration of ESG (environment, social, and governance) factors and incorporate UN Principles on Responsible Investments into their practice, in addition to reporting on investments annually (which have thus far been covered by a veil of administrative secrecy). Both of these these positions were seen as radical at our university as recently as a year ago. We’ve changed the landscape of the discourse at our university, but this is not nearly enough.
We require our institutions to take genuine leadership. There are no cosmetic solutions to the climate crisis. We need our university to take the bold action it claims to inspire in its students. We do not want them to seem to have acted. We need them to act.
The Board of Governors has affirmed what we feared: that the bureaucratic and administrative systems to which we belong are presently unfit for rising to the challenges presented by the climate crisis. It is up to us to demand that our institutions respond to the challenge. If they do not, we must replace them with those who will.
The Dalhousie Board of Governors has given new life and agency to our work. They have passed on the responsibility of bold action to where we knew it always laid – with students, staff, faculty, youth and community members – with people, not with bureaucracies and administration. They have made a mistake, to be sure, but we are willing to work with them to right that wrong.
A university that says “no” to divestment is an institution that has been co-opted by the influence of the industries whose business model is dependent on the wreckage of our climate.
To make our ask crystal clear: we are calling upon our university to stop further investments in the companies who own the majority of the known carbon reserves. It is crucial to the survival of future generations that as much as 80% of these reserves stay in the ground. It is immoral, and it makes poor financial sense to invest tens of millions of dollars in these specific entities.
The Dalhousie Board of Governors’ disappointing decision only strengthens our resolve. It highlights the need to address the pervasive influence and social licence of the fossil fuel industry on our our campuses.
It’s clear that we must lead this change. As we struggle forward in the climate movement, it is clear that no one is coming to save us, yet it gives us hope beyond measure to work together to save ourselves.
Just two weeks after the Board’s failure in leadership, the Dalhousie Student Union voted overwhelmingly to commit to divest its $2.4M investment, solidifying students and youth in the position of real leadership.
We left the Board on November 25th ringing this message, delivered by a human microphone 150 strong:
“We have given you the opportunity to lead—on a silver platter.
Instead, you’ve chosen to side with a dying industry,
and that our future just isn’t worth it.
It’s clear that you’re no longer the leaders here.
We will take it from here.”
This is just the beginning. In the days leading up to and following the Board decision, we received hundreds of emails, videos, tweets and messages in support of the work we are doing from individuals, organizations, and divestment campaigns across this continent. Our numbers continue to grow, and our power also grows as we collaborate, build community, and expand our collective knowledge.
This “no” to divestment was a mistake on the Board’s part, to be sure. But let us be clear:
this has not been a stifling point for our resolve. It has been an ignition point.
On Behalf of Divest Dalhousie