The Guardian recently reported that Harvard University has increased its investments in fossil fuels by almost seven fold over the last few months.
I co-founded Divest Harvard almost three years ago. We campaign for Harvard to divest its $36.4 billion endowment (the largest educational endowment in the world) from fossil fuel companies. Why? At the institutional level, it is both immoral and irrational for our University to invest in these firms. Harvard educates us for the future. The effort, money, and resources spent on our education is subverted by its support for companies that threaten to obliterate our futures. It is also hypocritical for Harvard to green our campus, pioneer clean tech research, and educate students about climate change while profitting from fossil fuel extraction. On the macro level, investing in the fossil fuel industry endorses its business model, which is fundamentally opposed to a livable planet. It also enables climate denial and the industry’s capture of our political system. We demand divestment because that is the only acceptable position for an educational institution.
Divest Harvard students have met with members of the Harvard Corporation three times. We have met with the Harvard Management Company, and we have spoken with President Drew Faust during 10-minute appointments at her bi-semesterly office hours. In our meetings, we’ve heard the same arguments repeated incessantly. We’ve been told to “thank BP.” We’ve heard excuses that, if the University divested from fossil fuel stocks, others would demand divestment from sugar! Most of Harvard’s arguments are summed up in Faust’s October 3, 2013 statement opposing divestment.
During these same three years, close to 70,000 people have signed onto the Divest Harvard campaign. The national divestment movement has grown to over 400 campaigns. Divestment pledges from Stanford University and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund highlight the more than $50 billion in assets that have been divested from fossil fuel companies to date. Contrast this with Harvard’s dismissal of Divest Harvard and its recent purchase of fossil fuel stocks. In trying to make sense of this, I have come to understand Harvard’s reaction to the fossil fuel divestment movement as an example of the same kind of thinking that created climate change in the first place.
Here’s how to think like Harvard:
First: Refuse to question your fierce commitment to the status quo. Harvard charges forward instead of stepping back to confront profound contradictions in its own practices. Harvard’s direct holdings in the top 200 fossil fuel companies jumped from $11.8 million to almost $80 million last quarter. This contradicts its responsibility to students’ futures and self-professed commitment to sustainability. This is akin to a government, whose primarily role is the protection of its people, spending billions of dollars on fossil fuel exploration with no regard for its catastrophic implications.