Yona: A Better Society

The Irving Institute hinders Dartmouth’s quest for sustainability.

by Leehi Yona | 4/21/17 12:30am

As a young climate scientist, I often have trouble sleeping at night.

I have read so many studies about the impacts of climate change that I cannot sit with my conscience unless I act.

Last fall, I was horrified when College President Phil Hanlon announced the creation of the Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society, which is funded in large part by Arthur Irving, the Canadian oil tycoon. How could Dartmouth accept funding from a fossil fuel company for an Institute for Energy and Society?

It was simply antithetical to everything I learned: in order to act on climate change, we must eliminate fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy. If we are to act on climate, we must immediately reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. We cannot build new pipelines — we must build a better future.

Irving Oil, on the other hand, is a major supporter of new pipelines in Canada. The company has advocated for the creation of the Energy East pipeline, a massive cross-country pipeline that is opposed by many indigenous peoples and communities across Canada, including the mayor of Montreal. Moreover, in New Brunswick, the Irving family has intimidated government scientists whose research criticized oil development. The Irving family also owns much of New Brunswick’s media, quashing negative press. To add to all of this, there have also been numerous reports of Irving lobbying governments for pipeline projects.

In the Irving Institute’s “About the Donors” page, the institute’s website says, “Irving has long been a supporter of academic institutions and environmental causes.” As a Canadian, I am all too aware of Irving’s reputation in Canada and frankly, the College’s words do not add up.

My research tells me that society cannot exist without a just transition away from fossil fuels. I will not be convinced that this institute will tackle societal problems until there is a clear indication from the Dartmouth administration that the institute’s goals will focus on transitioning toward renewable energy.

I have heard Hanlon pay endless lip service to sustainability. As a matter of fact, I can almost guarantee he’ll deliver an empty statement on sustainability for the College’s Earth Day celebrations today. But I have yet to see that talk materialize into leadership.

The Irving Institute is currently in the process of being formally organized. A director will soon be named. What will the focus of this institute be? Will it help lead Dartmouth — and society — toward a world with climate solutions? Or will it be focused on the past?

As the search committee for the inaugural director of the institute gets closer to nominating a candidate, I hope that it will remember the importance of “society” in the institute’s title. Ostensibly, this institute is meant to be a place where Dartmouth can contribute to solving some of the greatest challenges of our time — and that cannot be done without the leadership of a director who understands these social problems and who can envision interdisciplinary solutions.

There are numerous energy institutes at various universities in the United States. Focusing on justice and on the social component of environmental problems is an imperative to energy research, and such a focus could set Dartmouth apart. If, contrary to my concerns, the money donated by Irving did not carry any restrictions, then it should be simple to reaffirm this commitment to climate change action by selecting a director who understands the urgency of this crisis.

Climate change will only be solved by those who take on innovative, interdisciplinary, radical solutions. At Dartmouth, do we lead or do we fall behind?

Leehi Yona '16 is an alumna who founded the Divest Dartmouth campaign and is a member of Dartmouth Alumni for Climate Action.