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The Climate Cannot Wait Until 2050

By Steve S. Li
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

On April 22, the entire globe celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day. Just as it has with everything, the coronavirus pandemic altered celebrations, and nearly 100 members of the Harvard community participated in a virtual Earth Day rally to mark the occasion.

As we live through a seemingly existential crisis, Earth Day reminds us we are living through another — the looming threat of climate change. Both crises require decisive action. This Earth Day, Harvard attempted to deliver such action by announcing its commitment to maintaining an endowment producing net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

By aiming to achieve greenhouse gas neutrality in 30 years, the University has set its sights far too low. Though better than nothing, this action cannot be considered enough, particularly in light of peer institutions taking far bolder steps. For example, on the same day, Oxford University committed to fully divesting from fossil fuel companies and requiring proof that companies across its investment portfolio are working towards becoming carbon neutral.

Waiting until 2050 when more immediate action is clearly feasible seems timid and incremental. It is this very attitude that has led us to a situation where only increasingly drastic action can save us from the most devastating effects of the climate crisis.

In aiming for only neutrality, the University seems to indicate that it might maintain its investments in fossil fuel companies as long as other, carbon-reducing investments counteract these. However, we believe that it is repugnant that our education is being funded by companies actively destroying the environment and inciting humanitarian crises. No positive investment can atone for continuing to invest in a system that can push more than 120 million more people into poverty by 2030, and force many to choose between starvation and migration.

We appreciate that Harvard is inching in the right direction. Developing methods to measure portfolio emissions is an essential step forward. But we implore Harvard to look to some of its peer institutions and aim higher. Divestment from fossil fuel companies has always been possible, and it has now been implemented; in addition to Oxford, the University of California system, Georgetown University, and Brown University are all among the 182 educational institutions that have partially divested their holdings in companies that cause environmental harm.

Harvard can act with urgency; all of us who packed up our lives to minimize the devastating effects of the coronavirus can attest to this. We urge our University to act as decisively when it comes to confronting the climate crisis and to divest its fossil fuel holdings. One existential crisis makes another feel all the more real and urgent. The cataclysmic effects of climate change pose a global crisis of even greater proportions than the pandemic, and they demand greater action and moral leadership than what Harvard offered this Earth Day.

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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