Hunger strike rally set by McMaster students over Hamilton university’s fossil-fuel use


Published March 16, 2023 at 6:49 pm

A coalition of McMaster University students in Hamilton say they will follow through with a hunger strike next week over
fossil fuel investments by the Hamilton school, which says it “continues to divest” from that scourge of sustainability.

Members of the MacDivest group say they will hold a ‘Hunger Strike for a Better World’ rally at 11 a.m. on Monday (March 20). They say it will be held in the Mac student centre atrium, or in Mills Plaza if the former location is “occupied.” At issue are McMaster planning to build four natural gas-powered generators along Cootes Drive, and the university holding investments in fossil fuels.

Representatives from Environment Hamilton, Hamilton350, and the Ontario Clean Air Alliance are joining in solidarity, the MacDivest release said. It came out one day after McMaster announced further paring of fossil fuel investments in its portfolio, and said it was ahead of its initial 2030-timeline targets for cutting the carbon exposure of its investments. The release omitted the word “generators,” which are outlined in a 2021-22 energy management plan written by Mac’s Facility Services division.

“McMaster’s own estimates show that the gas project will take at least 13 years to pay itself off, resulting in at least (only to break even) 8,900 tonnes in carbon emissions (the equivalent of driving 22 million miles),” MacDivest states, with members Darren Ranawaka, Navin Garg, and Taskin A. Eera as the signatories.

“… (N)ew fossil-fuel energy projects are counterintuitive to global efforts to eliminate reliance on the fossil fuel industry. The installation of the generators directly opposes ongoing progress towards a sustainable and carbon-neutral planet. This is urgent. Our planet is in grave danger.”

MacDivest group added that its demands are twofold:

  1. Cessation of the natural gas-powered generators being built on Cootes Drive.
  2. Commitment to divestment from the fossil fuel industry with full public disclosure by 2025.

The hunger strike plan was announced on March 7. ON Wednesday, McMaster announced it “has reduced the carbon exposure of its investments by 49 per cent, surpassing the university’s initial goal of 45 percent by 2030.” The goals are now, as stated, “65 per cent by 2025; 75 per cent by 2030 and the rest as soon as possible after that.” It also linked to a 2022 C.D. Howe Institute study where McMaster and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver tied for first in a ranking of universities’ climate change activities.

“As well, 24 per cent of McMaster’s investments are in companies that offer clean technology, a number the university intends to raise markedly over the next several years,” McMaster says.

The C.D. Howe Institute is a registered charity and thinktank. Various major media outlets label C.D. Howe as small-c conservative, right-wing, and/or pro-business.

Hamilton especially climate-vulnerable

Human-made fossil fuel extraction and use by the manufacturing industry, as well as in home heating and personal vehicle using, is a proven contributor to the warming of Earth. Climate change is also a force multiplier on the incresingly concerning environmental effects on human health.

Hamilton is in one of the most climate-vulnerable areas of Canada. A CBC report said last year that residents in some “urban heat island” areas are more vulnerable and there have been calls for the city to pass a maximum heat bylaw for multi-residential dwellings (i.e., apartment towers) that do not have central air-conditioning.

Climate and weather are not one and the same. Climate change leads to more extreme weather events. That can include more frequent and more intense storms, and more extreme heat events. More exposure to extreme heat can exacerbate health and respiratory issues.

Hamilton, which is situated upon traditional territories of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation at the western tip of Lake Ontario, declared a climate emergency in 2019. Last year, the Intact Centre on Climate Change at the University of Waterloo said Hamilton is in the second most climate-vulnerable area of Canada. Windsor-Essex in southwestern Ontario was first. The city passed a climate action plan later in the year.

The steel plants in Hamilton are among the few of their kind in Canada that are adapting green technologies. But McMaster’s generators plan is not the only cause for concern when it comes to potentially additional carbon production through the use of natural gas to power an ostensibly green initiative.

Locally, it recently hit the news that GFL Environmental Inc. would use natural gas for a steelmaking dust-recycling pilot project in Stoney Creek. A news report said that GFL told Hamilton 350 that the Ontario electricity grid “is insufficient to meet the demand” for conversion to electric.

“Industry contributes 60 (per cent) of all local greenhouse gas emissions,” Ward 8 Coun. John-Paul Danko wrote in a tweet on March 14 that referred to Stoney Creek News coverage of the GFL plan. “… Adding NEW industrial emissions is the last thing we need!”

Grid issues long standing

The province and federal goverments, in an announcement posted by the Office of the Premier a month ago, stated that the senior levels of government would build the “Largest Electricity Battery Storage Project in Canada.”

However, the Premier Doug Ford-led Ontario PC Party government cancelled some 758 renewable energy projects in 2018 after winning a majority government. Numerous media reports have examined a gap in the long-term capacity of the energy supply, and the timeline to decarbonize (aka “net zero”). Now new gas-fired power plants remain in the province’s plan in order to provide enough electricity for the most populous province in Ontario, and carbon emissions in Ontario from energy generation could return to the levels recorded in the early 2010s.

That was about five years after steep emissions decline began in Ontario. The 2003-18 Liberal government, began phasing out coal-burning power plants in 2005. Prior to that, Ontario often ranked as one of the top five worst polluters of any jurisdiction (province, state, or territory) in Canada and the continental United States.

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