McMaster hunger strike against fossil fuel use to host solidarity rally in Hamilton

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Published March 22, 2023 at 7:28 pm

The ongoing student hunger strike against McMaster University’s investments in fossil fuel production, now on its third day, is planning a solidarity rally to mark the end of the first week this Friday.

The student-organized McMaster Divestment Project was formed to oppose the University’s four natural gas-powered generators on Cootes Dr. Additionally, they demand McMaster divest its $30.4 million investments in fossil fuel production.

Students began their strike on March 20. They plan to fill the school’s Student Centre atrium at noon on March 24 “to maintain momentum for their hunger strike.”

“As we strike, representatives from McMaster Divest who are currently hunger striking will be sharing their experiences to the crowd, group chants will be led, and we will open the floor for students, community members and faculty to show their support for the movement by speaking,” the group wrote.

So far group members report “they are hungry and lightheaded but above all frustrated.”

Per the group, McMaster’s gas plants are expected to increase the university’s carbon emissions by 415 tonnes for every 60 hours of operation.”

Citing McMaster’s own report on the use they continued, “Since they are projected to run for 100 hours each year, this is almost 700 tonnes of carbon annually.”

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this is equivalent to the emissions from driving a car nearly 10.3 million kilometres or burning nearly 1.3 million kilograms of coal.

The EPA calculator indicates it would take nearly 42,500 trees 10 years of growth to capture the carbon put out by the McMaster plants.

The university says however, that the plant are meant to be used to offset McMaster’s impact on the Ontario electrical grid during days of peak use, such as very hot days.

They’ve stressed that the plants for just a part of their overall Energy Management Plan which aims to make McMaster completely carbon neutral by 2050. Since 2013, the school has completed 23 energy-saving projects and has plans to start another 12 in the coming years.

Conversely, Divest McMaster said, “While this is an attempt at peak shaving, new 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.”

McMaster has also cited financial savings as a benefit of the new plants. However, McDivest argued that green energy projects cost roughly the same or less nowadays than fossil fuel projects and should be well within the school’s $52 million 2022 budget surplus.

The university estimated the new Cootes Dr. plant will take about 13 years to pay themselves off. In that time the plants will output 8,900 tonnes of carbon or the equivalent of driving 22 million miles, per Divest McMaster.

The three-day long strike has already gathered messages of solidarity ahead of Friday’s rally, including from the Ontario Clean Air Alliance.

“Not only is McMaster betraying its students and alumni by investing in outdated fossil technology instead of embracing innovation, it is going to add to the air pollution burden for a city with Canada’s 3rd worst air quality,” the advocacy group said, citing a recent report which shows breathing Hamilton air is already the equivalent of smoking 116 cigarettes in a year.

They’ve sent a letter to McMaster President David Farrar calling on the school to scrap the plant saying, “Universities are supposed to be hubs for creative thinking, innovation, and new ideas. A university that invests millions of dollars in a new polluting gas-fired power plant in 2023 is a university that is out of touch with the world’s need to reduce its greenhouse gas pollution.”

Additionally, Hamilton Centre MPP-elect Sarah Jama took to Twitter saying, “I’m in complete solidarity with MacDivest and their hunger strike. These students pay way too much in tuition and housing to also be abstaining from food and water.”

“That’s how much they care about getting McMaster University to divest from fossil fuels,” concluded Jama, a McMaster alumna and past sessional instructor who will be sworn in as an MPP on Monday. “Do better, Mac.”

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