Harvard faculty members urge university to divest from fossil fuels

Nearly 100 professors petition university to purge its $33bn endowment of holdings in oil and coal companies

Nearly 100 professors have accused Harvard of a failure of leadership on climate change and called on the university to sell off its investments in fossil fuels.

In an open letter released on Thursday, some 93 faculty members urged Harvard to purge its nearly $33bn endowment of all holdings in oil and coal companies.

The letter amounts to a rejection of an initiative announced by the university president, Drew Faust, earlier this week committing Harvard to new investment guidelines – but stopping short of divestment.

The faculty members said they were “disappointed” Faust had decided to keep Harvard invested in the industries that cause climate change.

“Our university invests in the fossil fuel industry: this is for us the central issue,” the letter said. “We believe that the corporation is making a decision that in the long run will not serve the university well.”

The open letter, supported by scientists and department heads, represents the latest round in the escalating campaign, at Harvard and other campuses to get universities to sell off their holdings in fossil fuels.

The campaigners are actively targeting some 250 college campuses but Harvard – which has the biggest endowment of all – is the richest prize.

Nine colleges have so far committed to selling off their stocks, as have a number of cities including Seattle.

As the Harvard faculty letter points out, the divestment movement got a push recently from the United Nations and the World Bank, which have both endorsed divestment as a way of fighting climate change.

The faculty members argue Harvard's refusal to purge its portfolio of oil and coal stocks was inconsistent with the university's commitment to influence corporate behavior as a way of stopping climate change.

Faust this week signed the university on to United Nations-backed guidelines for responsible investment. She also said Harvard was seeking to raise funds for climate research.

But the letter argues Harvard would be far more effective if it used its multi-billion endowment to push corporations to act on climate change.

“How, exactly, will the university 'encourage' fossil fuel corporations in 'addressing pressing environmental imperatives'? Will Harvard initiate or support shareholder resolutions? Will it divest from coal companies? Will it ask questions at shareholder meetings?” the letter asks.

It goes on: “We know that fossil fuel use must decrease. To achieve this goal, not only must research and education be pursued with vigor, pressure must also be exerted. If there is no pressure, then grievous harm due to climate change will accelerate and entrench itself for a span of time that will make the history of Harvard look short."

Contributor

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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