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Divest and conquer


As it stands, McGill holds investments in 645 publicly traded corporations, 35 of which have the largest carbon reserves in the world, and 14 of which extract crude oil from tar sands – an increasingly popular source of fuel extraction, although one widely criticized on both environmental and social grounds.

Universities use their endowment – the total value of their investment portfolios – to fund things such as pensions, programs, and scholarships in perpetuity. McGill’s total endowment is $983 million, $56 million of which is invested in various forms of fossil fuel extraction.

McGill turns a large profit from these investments, but it comes at a great ethical cost: tar sands are one of the largest contributing factors to greenhouse gas emissions in Canada (20 per cent are from Alberta tar sands alone). As an institution of higher learning and advanced scientific research, McGill is surely aware of the disastrous global consequences of climate change; the International Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body, warns of loss in biodiversity and a 50 per cent reduction in agricultural yield in the near future as a result of climate change. Among other detrimental effects, sea levels are projected to rise between one and seven metres over the next century.

McGill is also aware that certain investments are unethical: it adopted a policy of Socially Responsible Investing in 2004. To fulfil this commitment in more than name, McGill should divest from environmentally harmful and socially detrimental industries and corporations, particularly those involved in the tar sands.

Divestment pressure has worked in the past. During the 1980s, students at the University of Toronto, Carleton, McGill, and other universities launched a campaign to withdraw investments from companies and institutions with ties to apartheid South Africa. At McGill, following a combination of sit-ins, demonstrations, and educational efforts, the Board of Governors approved divestment from such companies.  Students, when mobilized, can be a tremendously persuasive force.

Divest McGill is one segment of a growing movement spreading across North American campuses – including branches at Brown, Cornell, Carleton, and many others – that is attempting to persuade universities to divest from environmentally and socially harmful investments. Given this widespread effort, it is time we McGill students stand up and recognize the positive effect we can have – and the effects we can prevent – by convincing the University to change its investment policy. Petitioning the McGill Board of Governors to divest is a simple and effective means of making our voices heard. As students and constituents, students must continually push for higher environmental standards: the test of our actions will be the state of the environment we leave to the next generation.

Divest McGill can be found at 

— The McGill Daily Editorial Board