Harvard University Won’t Leave Fossil Fuels Behind

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Activists have found a creative way to attack the fossil fuel industry where it matters most: the wallet. Frustrated with a government that won’t officially support the shift toward renewable energy, environmentalists have begun to pressure colleges, banks, and municipal governments to divest from fossil fuels.

Dozens of cities, along with at least six city governments, and a handful of religious organizations, have already pledged to pull their money out of dirty energy. Despite research from its own academics that concluded divestment is a powerful and successful strategy in fighting climate change, Harvard University has staunchly refused to join the party.

harvard university fossil fuel divestment

Image via Joseph Williams

In case you’re unfamiliar, divestment means discontinuing the investment of funds into stocks and other securities that benefit the oil, gas, and coal industries. Thanks to the hard work of 350.org, Go Fossil Free others, the divestment movement has already seen huge success.

Facing enormous pressure to follow suit, Harvard University’s president was recently compelled to make a public statement regarding divestment. Disappointingly, the school’s stance proves (once again) that being in Ivy League doesn’t necessarily mean higher intelligence. Some excerpts from the statement, which can be read in its entirety here:

The funds in the endowment have been given to us by generous benefactors over many years to advance academic aims, not to serve other purposes, however worthy.  As such, we maintain a strong presumption against divesting investment assets for reasons unrelated to the endowment’s financial strength and its ability to advance our academic goals. 

We should, moreover, be very wary of steps intended to instrumentalize our endowment in ways that would appear to position the University as a political actor rather than an academic institution.

We should also be clear-sighted about the risks that divestment could pose to the endowment’s capacity to propel our important research and teaching mission.  Significantly constraining investment options risks significantly constraining investment returns.

While all technically valid points, its hard to keep from rolling ones eyes at these excuses for not divesting. Reading between the lines, we can see that basically Harvard refuses to take a stand against climate changing fossil fuels simply because it will be uncomfortable and could potentially result in a lack of contributions from the industry in the future. What a missed opportunity to demonstrate true leadership for students, faculty, and academic institutions the world over.

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog