This letter was recently written by three Harvard undergraduates, Pennilynn R. Stahl, Krishna Dasaratha and Chloe Maxmin, on behalf of Divest Harvard, as part of the group's ongoing campaign to convice its university to divest all investments from the leading fossill-fuel companies. On Thursday, April 11, President Faust declined to meet with students herself but she did send a visibly tense Marc Goodheart, Vice President and Secretary of the University, outside to accept the signatures.
Dear President Faust,
During this past academic year, we have called upon Harvard to divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies that own the majority of the world’s fossil fuel reserves. By sponsoring climate change through our investments, our University is threatening our generation’s future.
Fossil fuel companies are corrupt institutions. They have exploited their workers, violated treaty rights of indigenous groups, and poisoned local communities with little risk of retribution from these marginalized populations. Internationally, these corporations have allegedly been complicit in torture and murder as a means of protecting their reserves. In some cases, they have even been accused of provoking the execution of activists who opposed them.
The business practices of these corporations are directly linked to accelerating global warming. If these companies burn more than 20 percent of their reserves, our planet will likely be locked into irreversible warming at a rate above two degrees Celsius. Scientists agree that this will have devastating consequences. Human health, clean water, clean air, and reliable food supply will all be compromised by the widespread effects of climate change. Fossil fuel executives are choosing to sacrifice the wellbeing of our society in favor of their short-term profits. By investing in these companies, we are making the same choice.
The dominance of the fossil fuel industry is clearly incongruous with the futures of Harvard students and of our planet. The question is: How do we pass meaningful climate legislation that will reduce carbon emissions and promote renewable energy?
Last semester, you claimed that “our most effective impact on climate change is not going to come through any kind of divestment activity. It’s going to come through what we do with our teaching, our research, the people...we support.” Addressing climate change through academic pursuits and the endowment are not mutually exclusive. The urgency of climate change demands action on several fronts. The university is fully capable of continuing academic work in areas such as climatology and environmental engineering without purchasing fossil fuel stocks.
It is intellectually inconsistent for Harvard to invest in fossil fuel companies while our faculty publicize the consequences of inaction on climate change and continued fossil fuel use. Furthermore, companies such as ExxonMobil have spent millions of dollars on, the words of the Union of Concerned Scientists, “disinformation tactics...that seek to confuse the public on global warming science.” Scientific discourse should not be controlled by the biggest spenders. Harvard should not associate with companies that actively undermine the conclusions of our research and education.
We cannot rely solely on political pressure to weaken the industry and pass climate legislation. On February 17, 50,000 people rallied outside the White House to protest the Keystone XL pipeline. It was the largest climate rally in history, and individuals showed President Obama and elected officials that they were serious about stopping tar sands extraction. Yet a few weeks later, the Senate passed a non-binding approval of the pipeline, despite recent public opposition. Unsurprisingly, senators who voted in favor of Keystone received, according to a study by Oil Change International, 3.5 times more money on average from the fossil fuel industry than Keystone opponents.
Since neither research nor education nor the largest climate rally in history can make a dent, we must divest from the fossil fuel industry. It has actively chosen to profit from destruction. By investing in this industry, Harvard has made the same choice. But we can change course, divest from major fossil fuel companies, and refuse to support their business model.
We invite you to meet with us on Thursday, April 11 at 4:30 p.m. outside Massachusetts Hall at our rally for divestment. You can directly hear from your students on why divesting from the top 200 fossil fuel companies is necessary. At that time, we’d like to deliver to you over 1,100 student signatures and over 125 alumni signatures that we have collected in support of fossil fuel divestment.
If you are not available to meet with us at that time, we request that you send one of Harvard’s vice presidents or a member of the Harvard Corporation in your place.
The Divest Harvard Team