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These in-their-own-words pieces are told to Patricia Lane and co-edited with input from the interviewee for the purpose of brevity.

Jude Sampson finds resilience in community.

In high school, Sampson co-led the organizing of 10,000 people in the 2019 Fridays for Future Halifax climate strikes. This 20-year-old is now encouraging their university, Dalhousie, to divest from fossil fuels.

Jude Sampson and other Divest Dal members setting up camp during a February occupation on the day of the board of governors meeting. Photo submitted

Tell us about Divest Dal.

Since 2013, hundreds of students and faculty have tried petitions, marches, information sessions, debates, occupations, protests and economic analysis to convince the university’s board of governors to divest Dalhousie’s endowment fund from fossil fuels.

In 2019, the governors adopted ethical sustainable governance (ESG) guidelines and slightly decreased fossil fuel investments, but the results are disappointing. The guidelines are used to select only the least-offensive fossil fuel companies, which is a strategy misaligned with our Paris targets, and the change in investment is insignificant given the depth of the climate crisis.

This year, we want to place the issue on the agenda of the next board meeting. At the very least, we hope they will study its performance in comparison with other divesting universities, like the University of Toronto.

Jude Sampson speaking at a climate rally in fall 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Maren Mealey

How do you account for the board’s intransigence?

In high school, Sampson co-led the organizing of 10,000 people in the 2019 Fridays for Future Halifax climate strikes. This 20-year-old is now encouraging their university, Dalhousie, to divest from fossil fuels. #YouthClimateAction

At least one governor is a past Exxon executive. Others have ties to industry. Their seat at the table has allowed them to construct the self-congratulatory narrative that Dalhousie’s reputation can continue to be based on its excellent academic and sports programs and to foreground programs like mine, which is training me to be a leader in sustainability. It is the same tired argument that fossil fuel companies use when they tell governments their industry creates good jobs and pays for health care and education. But there are no jobs, health care or education on a dead planet.

The pandemic took board meetings online and these continue today, making it impossible for us to draw attention there to the issue. COVID-19 also hampered traditional forms of organizing used during the student strikes.

But the fact remains that it is not right. The endowment was created for the benefit of students. As long as it invests in destroying our future, it cannot be said to be appropriately invested. Their obstruction forces us to focus on learning such things as how governors' meetings are conducted. It cannot be said to be a good thing that my Dalhousie education teaches me how supportive it is of an industry that is continuing to burn down our house.

Jude Sampson leading chants at a recent student rally in support of CUPE 3912 at Dalhousie. Photo by Sarah Plowman

It sounds very frustrating. Why do you do it and what keeps you going?

After the pandemic destroyed the momentum for the student strikes, many of us had a difficult time. We were isolated, disempowered and our voices silenced. I began to focus on more tangible goals, such as fossil fuels divestment. We began planning a protest event, but it, too, had to be cancelled, this time because of hurricane Fiona. It is hard to stay resilient. I have learned that taking action, especially on a concrete goal, is better than doing nothing.

I had the honour of moderating a discussion between Stephen Lewis and David Suzuki in front of thousands of people. While I was waiting backstage, I started to imagine some of the likely horrors of the climate crisis and I had a panic attack. I texted a friend of mine who helped me see my reaction was justified and appropriate. If you are not worried about this, you are not paying attention. Heartened, I went on stage and the panel went well. I was only able to keep going because of my friend’s support.

Acting to protect humanity is not a choice. The only issue is the best pathway. My fellow Divest Dal students are my beacons of hope and inspiration. It feels so good to be working together to do what we can to make a different future for us all.

Jude Sampson leads chants at the 10,000-person climate strike in September 2019 in Halifax. Photo by Theresa Duerr-Farrell

Do you think about what could happen if we did get this right?

Many of my friends do not have hope for a livable planet. But if we did keep warming to habitable levels, while we would still be faced with an imperfect world, at least we would have a chance to work on those problems. I would also get to see my grandchildren enjoying the natural places close to my home that are so close to my heart.

What would you like to say to other young people?

The hope that will keep you going is in the people around you who also care. Talking about it can make a difference. Halifax’s Fridays for Future started after I saw young people in Europe marching for the climate and I said to my friend, “What if we did that here?” That was the spark, and we took off. Take care of yourself along the way and don't try to do this alone.

What about older readers?

Lots of older people have been working on these issues for a long time and may have gotten used to things moving slowly. Have impatient young people around you to change things up.

And except for those of you who are Exxon executives: I don't blame you. Exxon knew, but the rest of us were lied to.