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Letter to the Editor: Divestment, So Much More than Optics

By Alyx J. Britton, James H. Coleman, and Caleb D. Schwartz
Alyx J. Britton ’21 is an Environmental Science and Public Policy and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies concentrator in Leverett House. James H. Coleman ’21 is a Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology concentrator in Dunster House. Caleb D. Schwartz ’20, a Crimson Multimedia editor, is an Environmental Science and Public Policy concentrator in Adams House. All three writers are members of Divest Harvard.

Last week, William A. McConnell ’21’s opinion column criticized Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard — of which we are members — for three reasons: our platform prioritizes optics over effective strategy; our tactics are too abrasive; and we are responding to unfounded climate alarmism.

McConnell’s first flawed assumption is that we operate purely on “optics,” not strategy. Divestment is one of many solutions to the climate crisis, based on a belief that we cannot create necessary systemic change while continuing to reinforce broken systems. Harvard would join $11 trillion worth of already-divested funds, helping to remove the social license of companies profiting on the destruction of our planet.

The second critique is of our tactics. Blockades and protests may rub people the wrong way, but that’s the point. Disruptive protest opens conversations around marginalized and oppressed ideas. We draw inspiration from a long history of activism that has driven the University to take necessary action in the past (similar tactics led to the creation of African and African American Studies department in 1968-70). Before our campaign, Harvard largely refused to even engage in conversation about divestment.

Finally, we don’t have time for minimization of the climate crisis. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gives us until 2030 to drastically cut emissions or hundreds of millions will face extreme poverty and despair. Our fears are founded by internationally accepted, consensus-based science, not unfounded panic. We seek urgency because right now, we’re not doing enough. On this point, even University President Lawrence S. Bacow agrees.

At the end of the day, Divest Harvard is fueled not by fear, but by hope. The climate crisis is not a lost cause. It’s an overwhelming challenge and that’s why we’re starting at home. We can turn inwards, towards our own University, the world’s richest, and do our best to ensure that when it comes to the climate crisis, Harvard lands on the right side of history.

Alyx J. Britton ’21 is an Environmental Science and Public Policy and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies concentrator in Leverett House. James H. Coleman ’21 is a Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology concentrator in Dunster House. Caleb D. Schwartz ’20, a Crimson Multimedia editor, is an Environmental Science and Public Policy concentrator in Adams House. All three writers are members of Divest Harvard.

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