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Harvard, Drowning in Inadequacy

Harvard Management Company is housed in the Boston Federal Reserve Building.
Harvard Management Company is housed in the Boston Federal Reserve Building. By Karina G. Gonzalez-Espinoza
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

The Harvard Management Company recently announced it has officially joined Climate Action 100+ — a financial initiative aiming to leverage investor power to steer corporate greenhouse gas emitters towards carbon footprint reduction and greater financial transparency in carbon-related ventures. The initiative hopes that through “direct engagement” it can be a strong force for combating the corporate drivers of climate change.

We stand by our precedent that Harvard should divest from the fossil fuel industry. Climate change is the most pressing problem of our time and needs to be addressed with the full force of our resources, and the kind of incrementalism this initiative represents is far from sufficient. We have called upon the University to act swiftly and decisively, and while it may be a small step in the right direction, the University’s climate policy overall remains a disappointment.

This program runs counter to the spirit of our hopes that the University divest because as an investor initiative, it specifically supports those with no intention of divestment. Even worse, the kinds of companies to which it provides capital are some of the primary drivers of pollution. While Harvard has emphasized a philosophy of engagement with these polluters, we are skeptical that companies whose fundamental business models and political strategies have relied on the degradation of the environment and consistent efforts to belie the reality of climate change can be reasoned with.

Furthermore, the steps the organization outlines to spur the cutting of corporate emissions are vague at best, and we question whether this sort of ill-defined "engagement" with companies really could have the leveraging potential Harvard suggests it will. The danger of incremental action that fails to make sufficient progress is that it gives the illusion of progress when in reality there is none, or very little. For all these reasons, we find Harvard’s action deeply inadequate.

Ironically, this investment decision from HMC is most useful in dispelling one of the myths the University has perpetuated for its own sake, namely that the endowment must remain apolitical. That statement has been at the heart of the University’s previous rejection of divestment, yet it is just such a political commitment that ostensibly drives the University’s pursuit of this program now. If the University truly believes that its investments are not to be used for political purposes, then it is contradictory for it to join an investment initiative with openly political goals. Though this initiative might be well-intentioned, it demonstrates the hypocrisy of not divesting from fossil fuels in order to remain apolitical. Either investments are political or they are not. Yet Harvard’s current understanding seems to be that investments must remain apolitical unless and until there is good press to be won from politicizing them.

In the context of divestment more broadly, we commend the hundreds of students, faculty, and Cambridge residents who protested for divestment and climate awareness last Friday. Climate change is the most significant threat that our society faces today, and its mitigation requires urgent, drastic, and decisive action. In that spirit, we fully support the efforts of those who devote their time and energy to advocating for such action. It is frustrating — though not surprising — that grassroots advocacy does not induce immediate enthusiasm for institutional change among those who hold power.

In contrast, on our other coast, the University of California system has divested about $150 million from fossil fuels. The fund managers have claimed that this was a purely financial decision, deeming the investments too risky, but we still support their decision and hope that Harvard analyzes this decision and follows suit. No matter the rationale, we strongly believe that divestment — coupled with other bold environmental action — is necessary given the current climate crisis, and that this incrementalist approach is woefully insufficient.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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