Dissent: Harvardian Hypocrisy

In a political and economic era where climate change denialism and deregulation are rampant, it is imperative that the University take a stronger position on the environment. This stance requires more than simply an acknowledgment of climate change to be true; it also necessitates tangible action. That action can only be shown through the unequivocal divestment of fossil fuels. It is, without question, hypocritical that the University continues to support climate change research and scholarship while continuing to hold even a small portion of its endowment in the fossil fuel industry. As the Trump administration continues unraveling climate regulations, Harvard must be forceful in showing support for issues that are crucial to the well-being of its students and the globe.

Research alone cannot solve the momentous environmental crisis the world faces. While research on climate change is vast, it is not exhaustive. And the continued monopolization of the energy industry by fossil fuel companies will not subside with research as long as institutions, like Harvard, continue funding a ‘more convenient’ source of energy. Divestment and climate change research are not mutually exclusive. Rather, the combined action will only pull the University’s usage of the endowment in line with the University’s espoused stance on climate change.

Divest’s demand for Harvard to pledge to not re-invest in coal is an important basic step in combatting climate change. This action is not difficult, as Harvard currently holds no investments in the coal industry: In the short term, it is a fundamental legal promise outlining Harvard’s commitment to financially disengage from the most dangerous fossil fuel, and a promise to continue fighting climate change on all fronts, not solely through research in the long run.

While our colleagues writing the majority view for the Editorial Board argue that other institutions’ previous symbolic gestures have failed to convince the public or policymakers of change, it is important to recognize that social movements and change do not occur overnight. The push for Harvard to make a statement on the moratorium on coal must not be devalued, as the symbolic acknowledgment of one’s participation is the fundamental first step in the finding solutions to a problem.

In a 2013 letter, Drew Faust deflected criticism of Harvard’s fossil fuel interests by claiming that divestment would amount to a politicization of the endowment. She continued, “the endowment is a resource, not an instrument to impel social or political change.” Despite Faust’s continued assertions of the contrary, the University is a political actor, and uses its funds for political means. If President Faust’s lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C. are any indication, Harvard has always been a political entity.

Because President Trump has threatened to pull funding from institutions that do not align with the views of political authority in this nation, any action that the University takes is inherently political.

Divest Harvard’s request for the total divestment of “the direct holdings from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies” would not drastically change the political nature of the University or the way in which the University uses its funds. If one still believes that this action too greatly politicizes the endowment, ask oneself: What point in the degradation of our environment must we reach before we become full political actors against climate change?

Ultimately, choosing to divest is not a self-serving exercise. It is simply holding the University accountable to its values of truth and critical intellectual inquiry. Our dependence on oil does not preclude us from criticizing Harvard’s investment in fossil fuels. In fact, it requires us to question a global economic system that maintains the primacy of fossil fuels. The potential union between research and divestment places Harvard in a position to be on the right side of history—to fully commit to fighting climate change, rather than simply paying it lip service.

We are disappointed in the Editorial Board’s decision to support and promote the continuation of the discredited policy of inaction and self-rationalization in the face of crisis. By claiming that climate change is a critical moral issue, yet dismissing demands for divestment from the very industry that perpetuates it, both the Editorial Board and the administration have demonstrated incredible cognitive dissonance. We give unequivocal support to Divest Harvard’s demands that the University publicly commit to divesting from coal and other fossil fuels.

Wonik Son ’19, a Crimson Editorial executive, is a History concentrator living in Winthrop House. Elijah T. Ezeji-Okoye ’20 is a Crimson Editorial writer living in Wigglesworth Hall. Laura S. Veira-Ramirez ‘20 is a Crimson Editorial writer living in Canaday Hall.

DISSENTING OPINIONS: Occasionally, The Crimson Editorial Board is divided about the opinion we express in a staff editorial. In these cases, dissenting board members have the opportunity to express their opposition to staff opinion.


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