Harvard University (Flickr/Kelly Delay)
The following is the text of my keynote speech at the first Divest Harvard alumni demonstration, outside Massachusetts Hall in Harvard Yard, on Monday, September 16, 2013. As of this writing, more than 500 Harvard graduates have signed the Alumni Resolution calling on the university to divest from fossil fuels.
Let me ask you something: Why are we here? Why are we standing here, in this place, right now? Why are you here?
I’ll tell you why I’m here. I’m here because I’m afraid. I’m the father of two young children, and I’m scared. And I’m here because I’m angry. That’s right. I’m angry. But most of all, I’m here because I’m determined. I’m determined to fight alongside these students for a just and stable future on this planet.
In the fall and spring of 1986 and ’87, as a freshman at this college, I lived on the top floor of Massachusetts Hall. My dorm room—right up there, in the top northeast corner, two floors above the President’s offices—faced out over the Yard, and I have vivid memories of large protests demanding that this university divest from companies doing business in apartheid South Africa. Suffice it to say, it got loud out here. Very, very loud.
And if any of you, here today, were out here then—thank you. I confess, I was too self-absorbed as a freshman to join you. I knew you were right, but I lacked the courage of my convictions. The kind of courage that these students here today have shown in this campaign to divest from fossil fuels. The courage to stand and speak truth to power.
Now, in the past year, since this campaign was launched, we’ve heard from a few critics—and, frankly, from a few cynics. And that’s just fine. We’re getting their attention.
And one of the things we’re told is that fossil-fuel divestment will be ineffective as a strategy to address climate change—that the economics of it won’t alter the behavior of these companies, the wealthiest on Earth. But this misreads—or fails to read—our clearly stated reasons for divestment. The leverage we aim to bring is not simply economic. It’s moral.
And on that score, we’re also told that we have the wrong target—that the fossil fuel industry isn’t the enemy, that we ourselves, as consumers—who, yes, in spite of our best efforts, still depend on fossil fuels—we are the enemy. As though the fossil fuel companies are somehow blameless—despite everything we know to the contrary. And as though the working, poor, and struggling families of this country and every other country are somehow responsible for solving the climate crisis, which they did nothing to create, by themselves—even as they’re forced to rely on fossil fuels, through no fault of their own, simply to put food on the table. This is a basic issue of justice. The wealthiest corporations on Earth have the power to help solve the crisis they have done so much to create, and from which they have profited—and continue to profit—so richly. And they must use it. Not stand in the way of solutions. Not, for God’s sake, deceive the public, deny science, and obstruct solutions.