This fall student activists launched the Harvard chapter of Divest for Our Future, a campaign intended to pressure Harvard Management Company, the body that oversees Harvard’s endowment, to divest from any companies involved in the fossil fuel industry and to move its investments into socially and environmentally responsible funds.
The campaign was originally launched by a regional student group called Students for a Just and Sustainable Future, which was founded several years ago to advocate for environmental issues at the national and state level, according to Alli J. Welton ‘15, a board member of the Harvard chapter of SJSF.
“At the national level, working with the political system is like working with a brick wall, because fossil fuel companies are giving so much money to candidates,” Welton said.
Welton said that the group hopes to tackle “the root of the problem” by taking away funding from corporations involved in fossil fuel, rather than relying on political change.
“We feel that there is a deep inconsistency in Harvard’s endowment practices, “ said Chloe S. Maxmin ’15, another board member of SJSF, in the press release announcing the launch of the campaign.
The group said that it cannot estimate the exact size of Harvard’s investments in fossil fuels because HMC’s investments are largely not accessible to the public.
The group’s press release also mentions Harvard’s alleged former investment in Massey Energy, a coal mining company whose safety violations caused the deaths of 29 miners in 2010.
However, Welton pointed out that Harvard has disclosed its investment in Petrobras, an oil extraction and distribution company in Brazil that drills offshore oil, a practice that may put the local environment at risk.
Maxmin said that the group would prefer that Harvard invest in “green funds” that they claim have returns similar to those of the fossil fuel industry. “We just want our money to be reinvested in a way that is not threatening our future,” she said.
Maxmin said that the group has begun raising awareness of the issue on campus by distributing “fact sheets” on Harvard’s investment practices.
“Climate change is probably the defining social justice issue of our time,” said Welton. “We have very few years left to really change fossil fuel practices before we’re locked into irreversible warming. It might seem abstract, but this takes its toll on people’s lives and the economy.”
—Staff writer Sagar Desai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer David W. Kaufman can be reached at email@example.com.