Fort McMoney interviews Divest McGill

Fort McMoney interviews Divest McGill

Fort McMoney is an interactive documentary game that lets you explore and virtually shape Fort McMurray and the future of the Alberta Tar Sands.

Interview with Kristen Perry and Amina Moustaqim-Barrette, Divest McGill

Members of the student group Divest McGill were among the delegates at “Petrocultures 2014: Oil, Energy & Canada’s Future,” a conference that took place in Montreal on February 6 and 7, hosted by the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada in conjunction with the University of Alberta.

Kristen Perry is a student in environmental science, and Amina Moustaqim-Barrette is studying cognitive science. Both are active with Divest McGill. The Fort McMoney team seized the opportunity to ask them about the group’s activities.

FMM: Tell us about the divestment movement.

Amina: The fossil-free divestment movement is part of the broader fight for climate justice. We formed Divest McGill in 2012, and the US-based group 350.org was established later that year, launching a global campaign to address the climate crisis. Climate justice is one of the critical issues of our times, and the movement has really taken off. There are already about 500 individual campaigns underway worldwide —mostly at universities and colleges, but also within municipalities and private foundations.

Divest McGill (divestmcgill.com) was the first Canadian campaign, but more and more Canadian universities are coming onboard. We are all part of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition (ourclimate.ca), which helps us coordinate our efforts. Just recently students at the three main universities in BC—Simon Fraser, UBC and the University of Victoria—won referendums calling for divestment. If you look at what’s happening around the world, we are the fasting growing student movement of our generation.

FMM: What were Divest McGill’s first actions?

Kristen: We began by circulating a petition calling for divestment, and by submitting an official divestment request to the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR), a body that reports to McGill’s Board of Governors. This first request was rejected on the basis that we have provided “insufficient evidence of social injury.” We maintain that continued investment in fossil fuels, and the tarsands in particular, does in fact cause “social injury,” and we are currently preparing a response to the CAMSR decision.

In general, our campaign is now putting more emphasis on the financial arguments. McGill would like to see itself as a leader when it comes to sustainability, and ethical investment was identified as a high priority in a recent university-wide sustainability consultation.

FMM: What is Divest McGill doing within the broader university community?

Kristen: We use different strategies to raise awareness on campus about climate justice and divestment – panels, workshops and creative actions. We use social media like Twitter and Facebook to communicate and organize, and we continue to collect signatures on our petition.

Our key message is: “Fossil fuels are a risky investment: for our environment, for our economy, and for our community.” It’s is message that is getting more and more support, not just from students, but also from faculty and alumnae. We are also building alliances with all kinds of off-campus groups.

FMM: Does history provide useful models of similar campaigns?

Amina: Absolutely. In the 1990s student groups were successful in getting universities to divest from the tobacco industry. And going back to the 80s, hundreds of institutions were pressured to divest from companies that did business with apartheid South Africa. Students have often been at the forefront when it comes to struggling for social justice – and growing numbers of students are seeing climate change as a question of justice.

What do you think of Fort McMoney?

Amina: This interactive documentary seems like a great way to get a more personal or humanistic perspective of the effects of the tar sands. It provides a forum for the views of everyone who is affected by the tar sands, and the whole process of extracting and burning them. In reality, that is all of us.

Kristen: It also helps convey the true complexity of the problem, and how interconnected our environment, society and economy are. By advancing this dialogue, we might be able to identify and enact solutions—such as divestment.