Harvard University, which has the world’s largest college endowment valued at $32.7 billion, has decided to continue its investment in fossil fuels, despite heavy pressure from environmental activists.
The announcement comes after the August hire of Jameela Pedicini as Harvard’s first vice president for sustainable investment, a position created following a student-led activist campaign demanding the school divest its holdings in fossil fuel companies.
website, the college’s president Drew Faust says despite numerous conversations with students criticizing the university’s fossil fuel investments and her own belief in the “importance” of addressing climate change, she and the university’s corporation committee on shareholder responsibility have agreed that divestment from the fossil fuel industry would be neither “warranted or wise.”
Faust’s argument against divestment hinges on Harvard’s existence as an educational institution rather than an advocacy platform. The funds in the endowment, Faust says, were given to Harvard by benefactors seeking to advance academic aims, not to serve other purposes, “however worthy.” As a result, those in charge of the investments maintain a “strong presumption” against divesting investment assets for reasons unrelated to the endowment’s financial strength, Faust writes.
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.
Tim DeChristopher: There Is No ‘Neutral’ in the Climate Fight
Wen Stephenson on October 4, 2013 – 10:45 AM ET
Yesterday, Harvard President Drew Faust issued a public statement explaining why the university will not divest from the fossil fuel industry. Renowned climate activist Tim DeChristopher, newly arrived at Harvard Divinity School after serving a two-year federal sentence for peaceful civil disobedience, is now a member of the “Harvard community” addressed by Faust. I wrote about Tim in an essay called “The New Abolitionists,” but we met in person for the first time only this week. We had a good conversation yesterday about divestment and Harvard, and just after we spoke, we learned that Faust had issued her statement. Tim immediately wrote a concise and powerful response to Faust, and I asked him if I could post it here. It’s worth noting that Tim indicts the industry in much the same terms I used in my divestment speech at Harvard on September 16: crimes against humanity.
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Drew Faust seeks a position of neutrality in a struggle where the powerful only ask that people like her remain neutral. She says that Harvard’s endowment shouldn’t take a political position, and yet it invests in an industry that spends countless millions on corrupting our political system. In a world of corporate personhood, if she doesn’t want that money to be political, she should put it under her mattress. She has clearly forgotten the words of Paolo Freire: “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and powerless means to side with the powerful, not to remain neutral.” Or as Howard Zinn put succinctly, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”
Welcome to Transition Studies. To prosper for very much longer on the changing Earth humankind will need to move beyond its current fossil-fueled civilization toward one that is sustained on recycled materials and renewable energy. This is not a trivial shift. It will require a major transition in all aspects of our lives.
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