Op-Ed: Why Harvard University Must Divest From Fossil Fuels

Campus activists want to hit big oil and coal where it hurts most—the bottom line.

Students at Harvard University protest the school's carbon-intensive portfolio. (Photo: JustandStable.com)

In the past few months, a fear has risen inside of me that has compelled me to devote my time to a new movement: fossil fuel divestment. 

It started this summer when I was working on the Tar Sands Free Northeast campaign, mobilizing to prevent Alberta’s tar sands from coming through an existing pipeline in Canada, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine—my home state. I drove through dense woods and followed yellow poles that marked an underground pipeline, surreptitiously winding around homes and under rivers. Most people didn’t know that toxic sludge could soon be running under their feet. 

The divestment movement shows that my generation is taking climate change seriously, and we will not sit by as our universities actively threaten our future.

Then came the climate silence. Global warming, the most urgent issue facing humanity, was never mentioned in the 2012 presidential debates. Obama touted clean coal, and Mitt Romney’s positions, apparently purchased by the fossil fuel industry, derided the climate crisis while promoting domestic oil-drilling and continued coal use. Two men vying for the most powerful position in the world advocated for energy that is literally threatening the future of the planet. 

These joint experiences made me realize that the fossil fuel industry is willing to sacrifice the future of civilization for current profit and buy out our political system in the process. The environmental movement can no longer exclusively focus on advocacy and political change. There are dominant powers that must be challenged in order to ensure a future that we can live in, let alone believe in. 

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Now I am joining thousands of students across the country as we take on the fossil fuel industry directly. We are calling on our universities to divest endowments from the top 200 publicly-traded companies that own the majority of the world’s fossil fuel reserves. We want our institutions to stop investing in corporations that are threatening our future. Over 100 campuses have launched campaigns in the past few months and are now challenging the fossil fuel industry directly. 

As a coordinator for the campaign at Harvard University, I have seen how divestment is providing my generation with the hope that we can create a better future. Divest Harvard—supported by Better Future Project and 350.org—launched this September. We started slowly to build our base on campus. We gathered over 1,000 signatures from students, faculty, and staff, held educational events, met with other student groups, and wrote many articles for our school newspaper.

We were the first campus in the country to have a referendum question about divestment on our student government ballot. The results: 72 percent of voting students supported divestment. From a few students in a room to a clear student mandate, divestment has engaged our campus and changed the way that students view the fight against global warming. 

The divestment movement shows that my generation is taking climate change seriously, and we will not sit by as our universities actively threaten our future. We want to support our institutions to make our investments socially and environmentally responsible. It is time for our financial investments to uphold the moral values of higher education. Divest from fossil fuel companies and reinvest in the future.

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