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Divest Harvard Ties Climate Crisis to Coronavirus Outbreak, Pledges to Continue Activism

With students forced to vacate campus as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Divest Harvard — a student group calling for the University to divest from fossil fuels — said in a Friday press release that the impact of climate change bears similarities to the ongoing outbreak and pledged to continue its efforts.
With students forced to vacate campus as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Divest Harvard — a student group calling for the University to divest from fossil fuels — said in a Friday press release that the impact of climate change bears similarities to the ongoing outbreak and pledged to continue its efforts. By Timothy R. O'Meara
By Ellen M. Burstein, Crimson Staff Writer

With students forced to vacate campus as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Divest Harvard — a student group calling for the University to divest from fossil fuels — said in a Friday press release that the impact of climate change bears similarities to the ongoing outbreak and pledged to continue its efforts.

Over the past several years, Divest Harvard has become a dominant activist groups on campus, garnering national attention for demonstrations to call attention to Harvard’s investment in the fossil fuel industry.

The group wrote that those affected by the coronavirus are also likely those bearing the brunt of climate change.

“The marginalized and low-income communities that are most impacted by the effects of COVID-19 are the same communities that are at the highest risk of climate disaster,” the press release reads.

Divest Harvard did not respond to a request for comment.

The press release states that the group supported the University’s decision to quickly move most students, faculty, and staff off campus.

“The administration proved that it can act with urgency if it wants to, and we support their general decision to rapidly upend the status quo when necessary,” it reads.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment on Divest Harvard's statement.

In the press release, Divest Harvard also charged that the University would be financially better off during a potential future period of economic downturn if it had divested from the fossil fuel industry in 2019. Experts say that a potential recession as a result of the novel coronavirus outbreak could pose serious financial risks for Harvard’s endowment.

When the University of California’s school system announced plans to divest from the fossil fuel industry in October 2019, administrators cited the financial risk of the industry as a factor in their decision.

Harvard Management Spokesperson Patrick S. McKiernan declined to comment on the group’s allegations, citing HMC’s policy not to comment on individual investments.

Harvard is better prepared for a potential economic downturn now than it was for the 2008 recession, according to Vice President for Finance and Chief Financial Officer Thomas J. Hollister.

Divest Harvard closed the press release by reiterating its plans to continue their activism remotely.

“We’ll continue to mobilize and fight for a more resilient world, because in crises like these, there is not the luxury of remaining on the sidelines,” the release reads.

—Staff writer Ellen M. Burstein can be reached at ellen.burstein@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ellenburstein.

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Student LifeCollege LifeEndowmentUniversity FinancesUniversityUniversity NewsDivestmentFront Middle FeatureCoronavirus