Faust and Fossil Fuels

Nearly two weeks ago, President Drew G. Faust addressed a letter to the Harvard community in which she rejected the idea of divesting the University’s money from the fossil fuel industry, an idea which has garnered much attention and support over the last year.

The widespread growth of the on-campus divestment movement is due to the work of Divest Harvard, a student and alumni activist group that advocates the University’s divestment from fossil fuels. The group has clearly gained the president’s attention enough to solicit the letter, but she remains staunch in ignoring their cries for cleaner University investments. Faust’s stubbornness on the issue is truly inexcusable—continued carbon pollution is reckless and harmful to the planet and all who occupy it. Her letter should do little to sway anyone who understands the real danger of climate change.

“Harvard is an academic institution,” Faust wrote, and no doubt all would agree with her. However, when you are in charge of $32.7 billon, you take on responsibility for how that money is spent. Reaffirming what is already known, that Harvard is a university and is dedicated to academics, does not in any way eliminate that responsibility. When Harvard invests in fossil fuels, it invests in harming the future of human existence through continued carbon pollution in the atmosphere. That is a fact. Just this last week, the scientific journal Nature published a study concluding that, within 35 years, average annual temperatures will consistently exceed current record highs. Across the country, leaders in various industries are already preparing for the impending changes in climate. These changes present a real, imminent threat, and the president of Harvard ought to treat them as such.

In her letter, Faust boasts of Harvard’s teaching and research in environmental studies in an attempt to minimize her noxious investments. However, in doing so she heralds some of the biggest proponents of divestment—students and professors—in her defense of current investment strategies. The thriving environmental education programs at Harvard contain many who advocate divestment, as do the other schools that constitute the University, including the Business School and the Kennedy School. But while President Faust might cite her dedicated faculty and student body, she isn’t listening to them. She’s listening to Harvard’s money management.

She expresses this sentiment in her letter’s opening: “I do not believe, nor do my colleagues on the Corporation, that university divestment from the fossil fuel industry is warranted or wise." This is where Faust is most honest with her readers. She admits whose side she’s on, who she’s working with. She isn’t ultimately listening to the compelling scientific case, nor is she listening to University outcry over fossil fuel investments. No, instead Drew Faust is listening to her colleagues on the Corporation, whose financial stability rests more comfortably in support of the fossil fuel industry than it does in the welfare of mankind.

I’m not expecting any public miracles from Faust. It makes perfect sense that the University’s financial caretakers wish to do exactly that—take care of its finances. But let it not seem as if there were any moral greyness about this decision; the right thing to do here is in no way unclear. Divestment can’t just be treated like an optional policy consideration, one that can be shelved if found undesirable. Divestment from an industry as wretched and toxic as is that of fossil fuels is an eventual must, if not now then in the near future. It is beyond safe to say that humans have polluted their planet to the point of dangerous global climate change, and to remain financially invested in the production of such danger is morally indefensible—no matter what Faust’s colleagues on the Corporation say.

Tyler V. C. VanValkenburg ’16 is a Crimson editorial writer in Lowell House.