On March 21st, 2016, Cinema Politica welcomed Caleb Behn, an Indigenous activist-lawyer hailing from North Eastern British Columbia, who passionately fights the proliferation of the fossil fuel and hydraulic fracturing industry (fracking) in Canada. Behn, a front-line litigation lawyer, has a personal tie to fracking – he was born with a birth defect that was a direct result of contamination. Aside from the devastating health problems that can arise from fracking, the destructive industry continues to turn once pristine wilderness and naturally replenishing resources into an industrial wasteland, irrevocably destroying the balance that is essential to a healthy ecosystem. Behn continues to approach fossil fuel corporations in a crucial effort to reconcile two opposing world views and effectively build an understanding between them.
The fracking industry continues to implement both imperialistic and colonial approaches to resource mining, with no intention of respecting First Nations communities in the region (as they are required to by 1899 legislation of Treaty No. 8), leaving the original inhabitants of the land with no control over the increasingly destructive situation. In Fractured Lands, Behn states that not only is there a possibility for a change in these practices, but that there is a necessity for change to, “mitigate destructive behavior in the face of the unknown”. Behn proposes a resolution to develop a concrete moratorium plan on fracking and create a system of accountability among those involved.
Little Stories That Go A Long Way: Resistance
Fracking has not only wedged a deep divide between affected communities and the industry but has also created permeating divides within the national Canadian community. Blending law and advocacy, Behn resists the notion that he is a lone soldier in the fight and speaks about how crucial community resistance is in opposing the fossil fuel industry. In the Q&A period following the film, Behn explicated that everyone has a role to play and that channeling the fight through a strategic framework is the most effective strategy. Tal Golan, a McGill student studying in the School of Environment, reflected that Fractured Lands was “really powerful, it is quite a frustrating battle to see and I thought the film was really effective in humanizing the problem… [it shows] the real people in the [affected] communities” and he continues, saying that “it’s really inspiring seeing someone who is devoting their life to working within a system to actively facilitate meaningful change, whether or not it’s possible, […] and I empathize with his fear of falling into nihilism”. Behn pushes the idea that the only action that will defeat the hierarchical nature of the fossil fuel industry is networked resistance and a call for direct action.
There are beasts, and they will consume without end.
Implications of Regulatory Capture and the Corrupted Definition of Ethical Oil
Regulatory Capture, in short, is a pretty way of saying political corruption. It works through a regulatory agency that is supposed to act in the public’s interest but instead works towards the economic, political, and commercial goals of dominant corporations. The oil industry and the Canadian government have and continue to justify fracking through the active disregard of credible scientific research and basing claims on insufficient data collection. By implementing Regulatory Capture, the government is able to effectively manipulate policy for its own interests and remain ignorant of serious environmental concerns in Canada, either by withholding crucial data or stating that the contamination in the land and water is natural.
Why It’s Time to Divest, McGill
Divest McGill is a student-organized initiative on campus that aims to hold the university accountable for its investments in fossil fuel companies. The Bull and Bear sat down with Julia Epstein (Political Science, Environmental Studies) and Guillaume Joseph (Economics, Political Science, Environmental Studies) to discuss Divest McGill’s past, present, and future initiatives as well as the recent administrative decision to continue to invest in the fossil fuel industry. Initially, McGill University was profiting from its investments in fossil fuel companies, but in recent years, especially with the price drop of fossil fuel company stocks, a recent study by Corporate Knights found that “McGill has lost 43 million dollars between 2012 and 2015 because of these investments”, states Joseph. In an attempt to justify oil extraction and fracking, the fossil fuel industry and its supporters pushed for the idea of ‘ethical oil’, but Joseph refutes this as “there is no such thing as ethical oil… Climate change is mostly caused by fossil fuels, oil extraction and burning [of the oil]… it can’t be ethical because it is still causing climate change… it shouldn’t even be called climate change, it should be called climate chaos”. Epstein adds that the term itself is “hypocritical and a lot of people use it to… justify [ethical oil] in ways they know will gain support. It’s a method of greenwashing [as well as] acting as a cop out”.
It shouldn’t even be called climate change, it should be called climate chaos.
Divest McGill’s ultimate goal is for McGill University to completely divest funds from fossil fuel industries. Divest McGill has twice approached administration seeking divestment, and twice they have been rejected, most recently on March 23, 2016. The first petition was submitted to the McGill Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR) in 2013 and was rejected because “it did not prove that fossil fuel companies were committing social injury, and at that point Divest McGill succeeded in getting CAMSR to broaden the scope of their mandate, and to add environmental damages to their [definition of] social injury” stated Joseph, which was considered a huge win. On March 23rd the McGill Board of Governors rejected, for the second time, Divest McGill’s call for action in divesting from fossil fuel companies despite overwhelming community support and hard scientific evidence of the social and environmental devastation caused by fracking.
Though Divest McGill’s campaign focuses on both the moral and political implications of fossil fuels, economically speaking, Joseph states that “the money should not come from an unethical place that is destroying the planet…universities are the pioneers of our society in terms of promoting the future and preparing future generations for the challenges to come, and so if universities don’t divest, who is going to do it?”. Many McGill clubs, alongside over 2,500 community members, have endorsed McGill’s divestment from fossil fuel companies. So why is McGill not listening?
Divestment is one step towards publicly showing that we should stop investing in fossil fuel companies, and stop giving subsidies to these corporations, as well as beginning to subsidize other [sustainable] technologies and research.
Be on the Watch
Divest McGill is in the midst of organizing an immediate response to the Board of Governors and CAMSR. This includes a diploma-returning ceremony by alumni on Friday, April 1st at 11:30 A.M. Twenty alumni have pledged their support to Divest McGill and are returning their diplomas to symbolize the shame of being associated with an institution that invests in the destruction of the environment. Epstein and Joseph have also disclosed to the Bull and Bear that ‘something’ will be happening next week in order to show administration the outpouring community support for divestment and the call for accountability against fossil fuel investments. Divest McGill hopes to highlight to the Board of Governors the importance of listening and consulting the community as well as promoting climate justice on campus.