Commentary  From bike protests to global campaigns

Strategies for a low carbon society

On November 6, demonstrators carrying orange flags – the colour of the North American-wide ‘Fossil Free’ campaign – chanted, “Don’t target bikes, target fossil fuels,” while biking across McGill campus. With the noticeable disagreement about riding bikes on campus, Divest McGill found another way to draw the attention of the McGill community. With over 400 campaigns in institutions in the U.S. and Canada asking for divestment from the fossil fuel industry, the growing movement deserves attention from the public.

Despite the denial of the Board of Governors’ (BoG) Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility to recommend the BoG to divest from fossil fuels last May, Divest McGill has continued to build momentum. The number of activists in the November 6 demonstration was considerably larger than in any of last year’s demonstrations. Yet Divest McGill believes it still needs to gain more support to build proactive and grassroots power for its demands to the administration.

Regarding the actions of Divest McGill, some McGill community members ask, “How can we demand divestment from the industry on which our lifestyles are totally dependent?” This is where the demonstration on bicycles becomes symbolic. Mitigation of carbon emissions or climate change adaptation requires multiple strategies to shift current practices and foster ethical attitudes. Strategies that cultivate the flourishing of humankind and the environment, instead of those that threaten our survival by enhancing the wreckage of the planet, need to be undertaken at different scales by everyone. Divesting from the fossil fuel industry at the University level and instead choosing to invest that 2.5 per cent of the endowment fund in ethically sound and progressive alternatives is one strategy. Biking or walking when possible instead of using fossil fuel powered vehicles at the individual level is another one. Single strategies alone will not suffice.

Universities are great places to research and experiment with tactics that lessen our dependence on fossil fuels, unleashed by creative ideas of diverse youth. The faster we develop, coordinate, and adopt those strategies, the more resilient and buffered we become to the real and upcoming crises of climate change and peak oil.

As a global leading institution invested in improving the future through education, McGill has an important role to play in how we transition toward sustainable, healthier societies less dependent on fossil fuels. Our University should be a moral beacon for society, and align its investments with its values, mission, and vision. McGill exists to create a future for all of us.

Let’s be caring and not ignore the sufferings of Indigenous communities affected by the pollution of the tar sands. Let’s be holistic and understand that all of us depend psychologically and physically on the health of the planet. Let’s be creative and come up with better investments, and design ways to diversify human-powered mobility on campus. Let’s be proactive and together push our University to make the right choices. Let’s be wise and divest.

Anna Zisa is a member of Divest McGill. To get in touch, email