An Open Letter in Support of Divestment

For the past few years, Divest McGill has been working to get McGill’s endowment and retirement funds out of the business of supporting fossil fuels. They now have a petition they want to take to the Board of Governors. Divest McGill is organized and run by students. There is a group of faculty and librarians who have formed in support, but this is a student-led campaign.

I just sent the following letter to McGill’s Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility, which advises the Board of Governors. You might consider writing them as well:

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing you as a faculty member with 11 years’ service to McGill and a member of McGill Faculty and Librarians for Divestment. I am asking you to recommend acceptance of Divest McGill’s petition to the Board of Governors and an immediate freeze on new fossil fuel investments.

There are many reasons to divest now. The most important reasons are moral. McGill is a university. Our mission statement talks about the advancement of learning and the creation and dissemination of knowledge. Research and teaching exist not just for the present but for the future. Thinking 50 years down the line, what kind of world do we want to leave for the U0 undergraduates who began this fall? As scholars, we must respect that the scientific consensus on global warming is clear and overwhelming. By investing in fossil fuels, we are actively working to undermine the futures for which our researchers and undergraduates are working. If we continued our fossil fuel investments, we would be knowingly and actively contributing to the destruction of the planet. If universities, institutions who are charged with producing the future, won’t lead on this matter, who will?

In 1903, the great social thinker W.E.B DuBois wrote that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.” While race remains one of the great issues of our time, it may well turn out that, as my colleague Stefan Helmreich argues, that the problem of the twenty-first century is the problem of the water line.

Future generations–our undergraduates’ children–will judge us on the actions we take today. But so will current generations. We have an opportunity to do the right thing, and to stand up as a global leader at a time when it really matters. Thus, I urge you to support Divest McGill’s petition to the Board of Governors, and help bring us into the 21st century.


Jonathan Sterne
Professor and James McGill Chair in Culture and Technology
Department of Art History and Communication Studies
McGill University

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