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In response to heightened pressure from Divest Harvard and the national divestment movement, President Faust issued last Thursday a detailed letter explaining the university’s reasoning in not divesting from fossil fuels. While we support President Faust’s reasoning and maintain our opposition to divestment, we believe that only good can come of the heightened student activism surrounding climate change.
As President Faust explained in her letter and as we opined last year, divestment does not appear to be a feasible or philosophically sound option for Harvard at the moment. We do believe, however, that climate change is an urgent and international problem that merits swift, decisive action. We also believe that the national divestment movement has created the impetus to work toward that change through its organization, mobilization, and agitation of students at Harvard and across the country.
Regardless of whether we agree with Divest Harvard’s specific means to the end of a healthier environment, they deserve our thanks because they have brought climate change—and the deleterious effects that fossil fuel corporations have on the environment—to a higher level of public awareness. They have been integral in forging a national movement, and their efforts have brought attention to Harvard’s environmental footprint both within and beyond the gates of Harvard Yard. The divestment movement can and should use that tremendous public influence to achieve change toward sustainability.
For example, President Faust reasoned in her letter that divestment might seem hypocritical due to the university’s reliance on fossil fuels in our day-to-day operations. A possible new goal for activists in the divestment movement, then, might be reducing the university’s reliance on fossil fuels—which could even weaken the university’s rationale against divestment. The movement could also work toward decreasing Harvard’s direct impact on the environment by bringing to light concerns that companies wholly owned by Harvard are engaging in environmentally hazardous practices in South America. Additionally, the divestment community might focus its resources on making sure that the university use its shareholder power in fossil fuel companies to direct those companies toward more sustainable practices.
Regardless of how Divest Harvard and the national divestment movement choose to proceed, they have succeeded in mobilizing scores of students to counteract climate change, and this alone is praiseworthy. In doing so, they have created the potential to have an even greater positive impact. The story of the divestment movement at Harvard proves that even when student activism is unsuccessful in achieving its immediate goals, it cannot be ignored.
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