On Friday afternoon, hundreds of students, faculty, and members of the Kingston community marched through campus to demand climate action from Queen’s administration.
Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change (QBACC) and Divest Queen’s, both student-run groups, organized the strike and presented demands to the University. The strike was one of many taking place around the country.
At noon, a crowd began to gather at the intersection of University Ave. and Union St. The protest, which started with fewer than 100, eventually climbed to more than 500 participants. Police were quick to arrive on the scene.
Jennifer Hosek, an associate professor in the Languages, Literatures and Cultures department who attended the strike, said investing in fossil fuels is beginning to make less financial sense. Given the resources’ scarcity and shifts regarding their regulations, Hosek said investments in fossil fuels are becoming more volatile and less profitable.
“Now our ethical goals and our financial goals have become one goal,” she told the crowd from a stage in front of Douglas Library.
Local politicians also attended the strike, including Kingston and the Islands MPP Ian Arthur and Candice Christmas, federal candidate for the Green Party of Canada.
Christmas argued the climate crisis shouldn’t be the focus of one political party.
“Climate is not a partisan issue, it’s a human issue,” she told The Journal in an interview. She urged Queen’s to “listen to the young people that they serve.”
On a stage set up in front of the crowd at the corner of University Ave. and Union St., Arthur spoke about the urgency of dealing with the climate crisis. “We’ve lost a generation. We are past the time of incrementalism and past the time of middle ground,” he said.
Representatives from the AMS were last to speak and highlighted their recent decision to divest fully from oil and gas. “We divested because we thought it was time to send a message, a message and a promise that we will do all we can,” Auston Pierce, AMS president, told the crowd.
Jessica Dahanayake, AMS vice-president (Operations), echoed the urgent sentiment. “We want to die of old age, not climate change,” she said.
After the speakers, the crowd marched around campus, passing through Nixon Field before ending in front of Richardson Hall, the Queen’s administration building where the principal’s office is located. A police escort drove in front of the marchers.
Though hundreds showed up for the day’s strike, including students and faculty, the University decided it wouldn’t close in solidarity with the protesters.
Principal Patrick Deane released a statement(link is external) responding to the strike, saying he respected the protest but that there may be differing opinions about how to achieve sustainability goals.
“The university has already made significant progress in meeting its greenhouse gas reduction targets of 35 per cent by 2020, 70 per cent by 2030, and carbon neutrality by 2040, as laid out in the university’s Climate Action Plan(link is external).”
QBACC and Divest Queen’s, however, outlined other demands to the University on the Facebook page for the strike. They include divesting from fossil fuels, retrofitting the school’s buildings to be more heat and energy efficient, enacting staff-wide Indigenous awareness training, and creating programs to reduce waste on campus.
According to a financial report(link is external) submitted to Queen’s Board of Trustees for their Sept. 27 meeting, the University faces significant costs associated with maintaining campus’ aging buildings. The report says Queen’s has deferred maintenance costs estimated at more than $344 million over the next five years.
Friday’s strike wasn’t QBACC’s first. In March, 2019, the group held a rally similarly focused on the climate crisis, particularly on how it would affect Kingston residents and what could be done.
In an email to The Journal prior to the strike, Nick Lorraway, ArtSci ’20, and QBACC chair, said Friday’s strike would be especially important given the University’s Board of Trustees were on campus. "I don't believe the board is truly aware of how far behind the administration is in environmental action," he said.
Lorraway said it’s important there be a shift in how we view environmental, social, and governance factors—or ESG—as intrinsically important when making financial decisions.
Generally, Lorraway said he hopes the strike will encourage Queen’s to change not only for its direct impact, but for the ripple effect it can have as a leading Canadian university.
“We will still work to gather even more support until we are impossible to ignore.”
QBACC is set to meet with the Board of Trustees at its first meeting of the year on Friday night.
-With files from Sydney Ko, Luca Dannetta, Tessa Warburton, Amelia Rankine, Jodie Grieve