Appeal from Prof. Darin Barney

An appeal to join McGill Faculty for Divestment

Dear colleagues,

I am writing to encourage you to sign an open letter from McGill faculty members calling upon the Board of Governors to divest the University’s endowment from the world’s top 200 fossil fuel companies. The letter has been organized by Divest McGill, a campus group comprised primarily of our students.  I have signed the letter, and I want to encourage you to do the same.

The letter speaks for itself on the question of why divestment is called for at this time, and why it is justified. It lists many good reasons to support the call for divestment, and addresses some of the reasons people might have for choosing to withhold their support. Divest McGill has also produced an excellent FAQ that speaks to the reservations some of us might have about divestment. The case for divestment is well-founded and compelling, and I signed the letter because I think it is the right thing to do.

That said, the issue of how to make the transition to more sustainable energy practices is a complex one, and the implications of adding political considerations to McGill’s investment practices are serious.  Such complexities typically recommend prudence, and I can appreciate that many of you will feel that impulse, because I have felt it myself.

For me, it comes down to this: it is never difficult to find reasons not to act but, right now, inaction is a luxury we cannot afford.

Isn’t it hypocritical to call for institutional divestment while we continue to organize our own lives around the consumption of fossil fuels and benefit from revenues derived from them?  Won’t politicizing McGill’s investment policies in response to this issue invite similar campaigns concerning other issues? Where will it end? How can we be certain that divestment won’t have unintended or unanticipated negative consequences?

Those are difficult and important questions, but if perfect consistency and guaranteed outcomes are what we are waiting for, then one thing is certain: we will never act. In light of what we know about fossil fuels and climate change, the most important question to ask regarding political action right now is not “Where will it end?” but, instead, “Where will it begin?”

I am persuaded that divestment of the University’s endowment from the fossil fuel industry is as good a place as any to begin. It demands relatively little of us as individuals but, as a collective act, it has the potential to make a meaningful difference. It could be the start of something, a start we can make together.  If you are ready to begin, please sign the letter today.

Collegially,

Darin Barney

Canada Research Chair in Technology & Citizenship

McGill University