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Harvard academics rally for ‘ethically responsible’ fossil fuels divestment



Ninety-three professors from Harvard University have signed an open letter that labels its president’s attitude towards climate change as “contradictory” and argues that divesting from fossil fuels is an act of “ethical responsibility”.

The letter comes after president Drew Faust announced a new climate strategy for the university and revealed that it had signed up to the UN-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and the CDP, formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project.

The signatories of the letter include many professors who specialise in climate science, energy and business management. They say that Faust’s behaviour is contradictory and call for the school to divest from fossil fuels companies.

Faust dismissed divestment proposals in October, saying it wouldn’t be “wise” for the university’s finances and that the institution did not exist to bring about social or political change.

But the academics writing in the letter said, “Divestment is an act of ethical responsibility, a protest against current practices that cannot be altered as quickly or effectively by other means. 

“The only way to remain ‘neutral’ in such circumstances is to bracket ethical principles even while being deeply concerned about consequences.  Slavery was once an investment issue, as were apartheid and the harm caused by smoking.”

They added, “Financially, no evidence exists that planned divestment would damage Harvard.  As awareness grows that burning known fossil fuel reserves will accelerate climate change to a catastrophic degree, and as fossil fuel consumption moderates, planned divestment will, in fact, strengthen the portfolio of the University.”

The letter adds that the goal is not to drive fossil fuels companies out of business, but to expose negative corporate attitudes and enable lasting change.

It seems self-contradictory to argue that Harvard owns a very small percentage of shares in a group of stocks –shares that, moreover, represent a small percentage of its own holdings – yet can nevertheless exert greater influence on corporate behaviour by retaining rather than selling that stock as protest. If Harvard were a major shareholder, that argument might make sense, but Harvard is not”, it continues.

We appeal to our colleagues, fellow alumni, and donors to join us in signing this statement, as an act of conscience and fiscal responsibility, and in asking the corporation to divest, as soon as possible, its holdings in fossil fuel corporations.”

Photo: Madeleine Holland via flickr

Further reading:

Harvard to sign Principles for Responsible Investment and set up $20m climate fund

Yes, we too can profit by killing the planet because… we’re Harvard

Fossil fuel divestment is neither ‘warranted or wise’, says Harvard president

US academics: fossil fuel divestment reduces long-term financial risks

Students criticise Harvard’s ‘false neutrality’ over fossil fuel divestment


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