In Letter, Faust Commits to Climate Progress

Manhattan Climate March
Demonstrators call on Harvard to divest its endowment from fossil fuels in 2014, arguing the move will help mitigate climate change.

University President Drew G. Faust signed a statement Monday affirming Harvard's commitment to combatting climate change in the wake of President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement.

In the statement, Faust and the presidents of six other Ivy League universities as well as Duke, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, MIT, and Stanford promise to “slow, and ultimately prevent, the rise in the global average temperature and to facilitate the transition to a clean energy economy.” It comes days after Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, an international accord aimed at limiting the greenhouse gas emissions and the rise of global temperatures.

The university leaders write that their commitment is "consistent with the Paris Agreement."

But some students and faculty are calling on Harvard to also to make further public commitments and join a coalition led by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that pledges to meet the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions target under the Paris Agreement.


More than 1200 American signatories, including governors, mayors, businesses, investors, and institutions of higher education have joined that coalition, according to a statement published Monday afternoon. Harvard is not among the 183 colleges and universities that were signatories, and some faculty members and students are calling on Harvard to take what they say is a stronger stance.

James M. Recht, a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a leader of Harvard Faculty for Divest, said he is disappointed with the University’s current stance.

Comparing Harvard’s pledge with that of the larger coalition, he said there was a “glaring omission” of “any acknowledgement of the dangerous and really reprehensible actions and behavior of Trump and the Trump administration.”

“This statement about support for the Paris Accord loses meaning because it’s put out there without any political context. We had a right as members of the Harvard community to expect quite a bit more,” he said.

Recht said he and other members of Harvard Faculty for Divest circulated a petition among several hundred Harvard faculty Sunday afternoon, receiving 78 signatures. They sent a brief letter to Faust Sunday evening with the faculty signatures, but Recht said they have yet to receive a response.

Students have also encouraged Faust to join the Bloomberg-led coalition. Members of the Harvard College Conservation Society drafted an open letter, which has dozens of signatory student groups as of Tuesday afternoon, including the Harvard Democrats, members of the Undergraduate Council, performing arts organizations, and other affinity groups.

Katherine A. Culbertson ’18, president of Harvard College Conservation Society, said she has been “so excited to see much support for a wide range of student organizations and students.”

“To see that solidarity has been really an incredible thing, especially after having been so down about the decision on Thursday,” she said.

HCCS also launched an online petition Monday evening and received more than 250 individual signatures in the first day, according to Andrés M. López-Garrido ’18, Advocacy Project Leader of HCCS.

López-Garrido, whose position was created following the success of the open letter campaign, said the group plans to keep gathering signatures in the coming weeks and applying student pressure on administrators to take stronger action.

Culbertson said she hopes to continue the conversation and for Faust to respond to the students’ open letter.

“This has instilled in all of us working on the letter with a new sense of vigor and a feeling that maybe we can actually do something in a time where so many of us have felt so powerless,” Culbertson said.

—Staff writer Sarah Wu can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @sarah_wu_.


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