University faces hearing in a lawsuit that argues Harvard has a duty to fight climate change by dumping fossil fuel companies from $36bn endowment
In an open letter, released as the university was being taken to court by its own students, more than 30 former Harvard students signed on to a campus campaign. Photograph: Lisa Poole/AP
Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington
Friday 20 February 2015 12.06 EST Last modified on Friday 20 February 2015 12.23 EST
Some of Harvard’s most prominent graduates – from Hollywood star Natalie Portman to environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr and the scholar Cornel West – called on the world’s richest university to dump fossil- fuel companies from its $36bn endowment.
In an open letter, released on Friday as the university was being taken to court by its own students, more than 30 former Harvard students signed on to a campus campaign calling on the university to fight climate change by divesting from coal, oil and gas companies.
The alumni included Maya Lin, the architect of the Vietnam war memorial, Nobel laureate Eric Chivian, Pulitzer prize-winning author Susan Faludi, academics, preachers, former US senators and Securities and Exchange commissioners as well as Bill McKibben, the founder of the group 350.org, which has driven the campus divestment campaign.
“As Harvard’s own researchers have done so much to show, global warming is the greatest threat the planet faces,” the letter says. “From the typhoon-battered Philippines to the disappearing islands of the Pacific to the water-starved towns of California’s drought-ridden Central Valley, this issue demands we all make changes to business as usual – especially those of us who have prospered from the systems driving climate change.
The letter, released just hours before the university faced a hearing in a lawsuit filed by students arguing that Harvard has a duty to fight climate change by pulling out of fossil fuel investments, suggests Harvard will face continued pressure in the months ahead over its endowment policies.
The alumni called for an old-style teach-in at Harvard on 12 April, followed by several days of sit-ins and rallies.
Over the last two years, the university has faced rising demands from students and faculty to set an example by winding down its direct investments in coal, oil and gas companies, thought to be worth at least $79m. It is believed indirect investments in fossil fuels are much greater.
Since then, a number of other universities have taken steps to divest. Stanford last May announced it would get rid of investments in coal companies. The heirs to the Rockefeller oil fortune decided to move out of fossil fuels last September.