By: Yelin Gemma Lee, News Writer
Content warning: May contain depictions of hunger
Disclaimer: Although some members of SFU350 are in support of this campaign, the hunger strike campaign is organized independently from them.
SFU students have organized a hunger strike which they aim to start on November 1, 2021. The hunger strike is planned in response to SFU’s delays in taking on fossil fuel divestment. The campaign demands SFU fully divest from fossil fuel by 2025, educate Burnaby campus communities on the risks of tank farms, and publish a statement recognizing SFU staff, students, and faculty who oppose the Trans-Mountain pipeline expansion.
The Peak spoke to Zain Haq, the main hunger striker and organizer of this campaign. Haq is a third-year economics student and a member of Extinction Rebellion Vancouver (XR), a climate advocacy group committed to nonviolent direct action. Although Haq considered organizing the hunger strike as an XR action, he wanted to take this opportunity to build an SFU community of people participating in direct action. According to Haq, the campaign has already gained support from the SFU community, including Tim Takaro and SFU350.
“It’s not just about divestment, because divestment is a bit of a euphemism, and investment in fossil fuels is also a euphemism. The reality is that they’re invested in social collapse, which is what we’re looking at if we go over two degrees,” said Haq. “I think people take you seriously once you cause emotional disruption. When you’re doing a hunger strike, that’s what you’re doing: you’re upsetting the opponent, inflicting a reputational cost on the opponent.”
Haq plans to camp out overnight in the AQ, consuming only lemon water, salt, and vitamin tablets until SFU administration accepts their demands. Haq was inspired by Roger Hallam, co-founder of XR, and UBC’s hunger strike in 2020. Previously, Hallam did a 14-day hunger strike at King’s College in London to pressure his university to divest by 2025. Hallam was successful and King’s College fully divested from fossil fuels in 2021.
The Peak reached out to SFU administration for comments but did not receive a response by the publication deadline.
Prior to the strike, the campaign will hold a public talk to recruit more volunteers to strike or to take on a supportive role. Jaden Dyer, media co-ordinator of the campaign and fourth-year environmental studies student said the campaign will be open to “engage in a respectful dialogue with the university administration liaisons. No date has been announced for the talk.
“[SFU has] continued to lack the urgency that the climate crisis demands, and that so many students at this institution feel,” said Dyer. “We students tend to understand all too well that our time to act is so limited. We’re told that when we get our degrees and earn our dream jobs, that’s when we’ll make a difference. But for many of us, that will simply be too late.
“We can’t live in hope for our futures, we’re forced to live in terror. And instead of having our paths paved out for us by our university, they are being stripped away. We have to demand change now, or the degrees we’re working towards won’t matter.”
Dyer stated SFU Board of Governor’s response on September 28, 2021 to SFU350’s presentation was “atrocious” and “it’s clearer now more than ever before that the climate emergency has never been treated as such.” In the Board of Governors meeting, two motions were made to refer SFU350’s demands to “a later date.” Haq, however, was not surprised at the SFU Board of Governors’ response.
“[They] responded to the National Observer saying that divestment doesn’t solve the problem of the investment being handed over to someone less ethical [ . . . ] And that to me felt like saying that a mass murder project is better done by well-mannered people than ill-mannered people,” said Haq. “I think it comes down to what the right thing to do is and what the students are invested in because ultimately it’s the students’ money.
“Our university is complicit in something that is quite arguably the greatest criminal act in history which is the mass extermination of human beings if we go over two degrees global average temperatures. The university is financially invested in that and that’s morally regressable [sic].”