Last Friday’s climate strike brought the climate crisis to the forefront of public conversation. There is an ever-growing awareness of the dire reality of the climate emergency: if immediate, far-reaching action is not taken, there will be major harm to ecosystems and loss of life.

A 2018 report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that, in order to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C, carbon dioxide emissions would need to fall by about 45 per cent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. 

Research tells us that the climate emergency is an existential threat requiring immediate, far-reaching action. It is clear that our reliance on fossil fuels is unsustainable. 

In order to properly address the climate emergency, we need rapid and unprecedented changes in every facet of society. We need to move away from our extraction-based economy that prioritizes growth and resource extraction, towards a justice-centred approach.

Currently, the university employs measures to understand and address climate change, including the McMaster Centre for Climate Change and the SUSTAIN program. McMaster also tracks and reports on its sustainability measures every year.

However, McMaster is more than just a research institution: the University has considerable financial, social and political power that it needs to use to push for far-reaching change.

Piecemeal solutions like banning plastic bags and reducing buildings’ energy consumption are good steps in the right direction, but they are not nearly enough.

Despite claiming to support pro-environment movements, McMaster provides financial support to the fossil fuel industry.

As of last year, $35.96 million, or 4.3 per cent, of McMaster’s endowment fund was invested in fossil fuel companies. By investing in the fossil fuel industry, the university provides not only financial support, but also social license to the very industries that are harming the planet. By continuing to fund the fossil fuel industry, McMaster helps to uphold a system that is completely unsustainable.

According to the Carbon Majors Database, 71 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 can be traced back to just 100 fossil fuel companies. Furthermore, pipelines and other dangerous projects  have violated Indigenous land rights in order to extract fossil fuels.

Moving away from this economic system is a much larger discussion, but one tangible step that McMaster can take is to pull investments from the university’s divestment fund out of fossil fuel companies.

Divestment is not an end goal, but is a tactic that aims to “name and shame” the fossil fuel industry. It is morally reprehensible to profit off of the destruction of the planet, and pulling investments out of fossil fuel companies sends a clear message of condemnation.

In 2015, students, staff and faculty members issued petitions urging the university to divest from fossil fuel companies. Former president Patrick Deane struck an advisory committee, which came back with 12 recommendations for McMaster to pursue instead of full divestment.

More recently, MacGreenInvest, a McMaster faculty organization, issued a petition calling on McMaster to divest fossil fuel investments from McMaster’s endowment fund, and reinvest the funds in green renewable energy companies. As of Wednesday afternoon, the petition had over 1,000 signatures on Change.org.

McMaster prides itself on being a leader in sustainable development. It is unconscionable that they pay for this work by investing into companies that profit off of harming the environment.

Photo from Silhouette Photo Archives

By: Pooja Sreerangan

The McMaster Students Union boasts having over 350 clubs with an entire section dedicated towards clubs that are meant to raise awareness and funds for a diverse selection of social issues. While this sounds noble on paper, how many of these clubs actually impart meaningful change?

There are many reasons students join or create these types of clubs and unfortunately, altruism is not the top motivator. In our current competitive climate, students are pushed to become “well-rounded” on the basis that well-rounded students are more desirable. Thus, many students strive to not only excel academically but also engage in a broad spectrum of activities that would be looked upon favourably by a potential employer.

While it is important for students to be well-rounded, many lose sight as to why this is important; the skills and experiences one can gain as a result of being involved in a multitude of activities. Instead, it is often the case that students will join as many clubs as they possibly can in order to pad their résumés and CVs. The result is that students appear to be extremely well-rounded when the reality is anything but.

What is worse is that many of these students only contribute the bare minimum to these clubs — that is, if contribute anything at all. As someone involved with the recruitment for various clubs, it is disappointing to witness the overabundance of interest at the beginning of the school year rapidly taper off as time passes. By the end of the term, it is typical to find only a handful of members attending required shifts and meetings compared to the dozens that initially signed up.

I understand that academics take priority but students should be responsible enough to only agree to commitments which they can actually fulfill. Otherwise, it is unethical to state to employers and recruiters that they contributed to clubs in which they did nothing for. In fact, these individuals most likely hindered the club’s progress.

This problem seems to be worsening with time. At McMaster, there has been an apparent rise in “social-front” clubs; that is, clubs that have been created for the sole purpose of CV and résumé padding rather than their stated goals of influencing meaningful change. Every September at the annual Clubsfest, there seems to be more of these social-front clubs that center around the discussion of niche issues. Raising awareness is important but I have serious reservations that these clubs even do that.

MSU Clubs should adopt a “quality over quantity” ideal. There must be some accountability in place for social issue clubs to prove that they are in fact continuously making a positive change or they should be disbanded. Considering that the MSU provides a budget to those clubs that request it, it is important to ensure that student funds are not being given to clubs that do not complete what they’ve promised.

So the next time you decide to join a club or maybe even create a new one, ask yourself, are you actually trying to make a change or are you beefing up your CV?

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Photo by Kyle West

Ontario Public Interest Research Group McMaster is focusing on more efficiently empowering students to make a difference in the community following a referendum in January 2018 that lowered students’ contributions to our OPIRG chapter from $8.07 per student to $5.50.

The organization tackles social and environmental issues through funding student projects and other community organizations.

This year, OPIRG McMaster has made two main changes: cutting staff costs and splitting the single project category of “Working Groups” into mainly “Public Interest Projects” and “Community Partners.”

The most significant effect of the decreased funding has been major cuts in staff funding. This year, salaries and benefits for the three staff members will amount to $89, 342, according to the budget.

The second change entails establishing two types of project groups to improve efficiency and accountability.  

“Streamlining the Working Groups into either Public Interest Projects or Partnerships allows us to hold groups more accountable and also better provide them with the support they need,” said Parnika Godkhindi, director of publicity at OPIRG McMaster.

OPIRG offers up to $1,550 in funding for public interest projects, which are student-run and make change through clear goals and measurable results. Community partners typically have a less measurable impact, are more established and work not as closely with OPIRG, receiving less funding.   

Two examples of public interest projects are Bleed Free, which supports sustainable reproductive health and awareness, and Threadwork, which calls for students to think more critically about the impact of clothing on the environment.

According to Godkhindi, historically, actively supporting the working groups was not a main priority for OPIRG. Instead, they raised money for other organizations and played more of an oversight role for groups.

That has changed this year, with more resources and attention being given to supporting public interest groups.

“We realized that getting students actively involved on campus is one of our main priorities,” said Godkhindi.

OPIRG hopes that creating public interest groups based on definitive actions and results will increase transparency and more recognition of OPIRG’s role as well.

“Before, when people used to think of OPIRG, you would know what the working groups were, but you didn’t know what they were doing,” said Faris Mecklai, OPIRG director of policies and procedures. “Changing it to public interest groups where you are able to measure results and see what is happening just makes it a lot more clear.”

This year, the group has placed a larger focus on promoting the role that OPIRG plays in supporting student initiatives that students might see.  

“Lots of rebranding goes with that,” said Godkhindi. “We just want to make sure that that connection is established more clearly so people know that we are actually on campus and doing things with their tuition fee.”

OPIRG McMaster is also re-evaluating annual programming they hold. They see the lowered budget as a chance to make sure what they do is producing results. Godkhindi pointed to the annual Making Connections Week in September as an example.

In light of the funding change, OPIRG sees this year as an opportunity to shift their strategic goals to get back to their core mission: empowering students.

“There is so much potential here. Our thing is trying to harness the potential to make it more effective,” said resource centre director Katerina Simantirakis.

The deadline for public interest project applications was Oct. 22. Applications for community projects should be open in early November.

OPIRG McMaster will be presenting a report on their activity this year at the Nov. 11 Student Representative Assembly meeting. With changes to their projects, OPIRG is trying to figure out how to best use all the resources they have to enable students to ignite change in the community.

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