On April 12th, Divest Harvard protesters renewed debate over the University’s choice to invest significant portions of its endowment in fossil fuel companies. Divest Harvard staged its protest in the lobby of the Boston Federal Reserve Building, home to the Harvard Management Company, which is in charge of investing the University’s endowment. The protest was composed of a rally of 25 students, faculty members, and alumni and a sit-in of four more protesters who were ultimately arrested.
This protest coincided with Yale’s announcement that it would begin divesting from fossil fuels for financial reasons. Yale Chief Investment Officer David Swensen reported that, after extended discussion with external managers, Yale has removed $10 million of its endowment from publicly traded fossil fuel companies. Rather than citing moral or ethical grounds for this choice, however, Swensen credited the risk of increased regulation and poor future financial performance of the assets as the basis for the decision.
While we approve the pro-climate effects of Yale’s decision, we are disappointed in the institution’s unwillingness to include moral concerns in its decision. Climate change is a rising threat that will affect all of us. As managers of such enormous endowments, institutions like Yale and Harvard have a responsibility to use their resources to further the mission of the institutions. Investing in companies who profit by destroying our future is incompatible with Harvard’s mission. Moving forward, we hope that Harvard will use Yale’s divestment as evidence for reconsidering the financial viability of its holdings in fossil fuel industries. But in addition to making the right financial decision, we hope that Harvard will consider the ethical implications of its investments.
Previously, University President Drew G. Faust has firmly rejected Divest Harvard’s attempts to secure the political statement of divestment, arguing that research initiatives are the best way to address the issue of climate change and that divestment was a weak political move with poor consequences for the financial health of the University. While it is imperative that Harvard contribute its knowledge to addressing climate change with its research as it has been doing for years, that does not preclude the University from also making a political statement with its endowment. No matter what Harvard decides, the issue has become political. Inaction is now a political statement as strong as action. Harvard’s claim that divestment would bring enormous negative financial consequences loses its strength after Yale made the opposite decision with the same financial goal in mind.
In addition, the argument that we should use investments in fossil fuels to fund climate research does not hold weight by divestment opponents’ own logic. The argument that it is hypocritical to divest from fossil fuels while we continue to rely on them does not hold water. We will never be able to end our dependence on fossil fuels if—as opponents insist—we can't fight against them while we're still mired in this rigged system. Moreover, by this logic, we certainly cannot fight fossil fuels with money we make from fossil fuels, while maintaining a vested financial interest in the fossil fuels industry. The arguments just don’t make sense.As a leader in higher education, Harvard has the influence to bring the exploitative practices of an industry that is based on destructive extraction of natural resources further into the national consciousness. It is hypocritical of Harvard to commit to fighting climate change while also supporting the industries that create it. Harvard’s stature means that it cannot ignore the pro-fossil fuel message that the status quo declares. We hope that Harvard will take this financially positive choice to divest for both itself and the sake of our future. If action is inevitably political, there is no good reason for Harvard to stay on the sidelines.
Elizabeth Y. Sun '19, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Canaday Hall. Ted G. Waechter '18, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Quincy House.
DISSENTING OPINIONS: Occasionally, The Crimson Editorial Board is divided about the opinion we express in a staff editorial. In these cases, dissenting members have the opportunity to express their opposition to board opinion.
The Wrong StrategyIt is hard for us to see how Harvard’s investment choices—measured in the tens of millions—would shape a global fossil fuel market of nearly five trillion dollars. The supposed signal that Harvard might send also seems improbable.
For a Carbon-Free Future, Divestment is the Wrong AnswerSimply put, it is the supply of and demand for fossil fuels that creates the valuations of energy companies, not the reverse. Divestment has no ability to alter these basic economic realities.
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