By Kirk Carapezza
December 11, 2018
A local environmentalist is criticizing Harvard University following a report that the college’s endowment fund is banking on water rights in California’s parched central coast.
The Wall Street Journal on Monday reported that Harvard’s endowment fund secretly bought thousands of acres of farmland, focusing on parcels with healthy groundwater deposits. The idea is that in drought-stricken California, the value of that water will only increase.
“[Harvard’s] $39 billion fund, among America’s biggest endowments, now values its vineyards at $305 million, up nearly threefold from in 2013,” the Journal reported.
Environmentalist Bill McKibben, a Harvard graduate, said that strategy looks particularly bad given Harvard’s refusal to divest from fossil fuel companies.
“Refusing to divest from fossil fuel and trying to profit from climate change strikes me as pretty darn cynical,” McKibben said. “Their willingness to stand with the fossil fuel giants exacerbates global warming and the thesis of this investment seems to be that as the planet warms these investments will appreciate in value.”
In March, Kat Taylor, a member of Harvard’s Board of Overseers, demanded the university get rid of its investments in fossil fuels. Taylor, a cofounder of a community development bank in Oakland and the wife of philanthropist Tom Steyer, was the first member of that board to openly embrace divestment.
At the time, she cited Harvard’s “dismal” financial returns as one reason to divest from fossil fuels.
“But the real reason to do it is a moral one,” Taylor said. “Harvard has a very high public purpose and it should align all of its activities with that high purpose.”
A spokesman for the Harvard Corporation, which oversees the university’s endowment, said it does not comment on specific investments.