The Hamilton 350 Committee, a 14-year-old volunteer climate action organization, supports the students of MacDivest and applauds their personal sacrifice in launching a hunger strike at McMaster University on March 20. That said, we also wish to express our concern for the health of those involved in the hunger strike.
The students are justly opposing the expanded use on campus of so-called “natural” gas by the university administration. The McMaster Board of Governors plans to install four fossil gas-fired generators to replace electricity from the provincial grid despite the latter being overwhelmingly fossil-free.
Fossil gas is over 90 percent methane, a greenhouse gas that causes 80 times more climate heating than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after its release. The vast majority of fossil gas burned in Ontario comes from hydraulic fracking in the United States – an extraction process that contaminates huge quantities of both groundwater and surface water, often generates geological instability, and is accompanied by leakage of methane gas to the atmosphere. Many researchers believe fracked gas has climatic impacts equal to coal. Even without accounting for the fracked source of fossil gas, it is already the biggest source of climate-destructive greenhouse gas emissions in the Greater Hamilton and Toronto Area.
McMaster’s Board of Governors argues these methane generators will reduce the university’s electricity charges. They claim the savings will help fund future reductions in campus greenhouse gas emissions. The Hamilton 350 Committee rejects this contorted “logic” for expanding the university’s climate-destructive greenhouse gas emissions. There are multiple ways the university can reduce its electricity consumption and/or obtain additional energy from renewable sources. We are confident that the university community is prepared to embrace such climate-responsible steps.
Of note, the university is a public institution and the electricity charges they say will be avoided are feeding the public funds that keep the lights on in Ontario. Instead of supporting the public electrical system, the university chooses to pay private corporations for the generators and their installation, and then make ongoing payments to private corporations for the methane to run them.
Expanding the use of such fuels spits in the face of world science and leading global institutions such as the International Energy Agency, the Secretariat of the United Nations, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. All of them point to the necessity to cut GHG emissions as fast as possible, and by at least half by the end of this decade and they have clearly denounced any increase in the extraction or use of fossil fuels.
The plans of the McMaster Board of Governors to expand methane gas use on campus echo their equally destructive continued use of the university’s endowment monies to invest in fossil fuel. The logic is the same – putting short term financial interests ahead of the health and welfare of their students and the planet. It is a shameful calculus unworthy of an institution that claims to stand for knowledge and higher education.