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It’s Time to Shed Light on Our Elite Institutions’ Dirty Money

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When I first met President Lawrence Bacow in one of his office hours sessions last fall to discuss divesting Harvard’s nearly $40 billion endowment from the fossil fuel industry, his message was clear: for now, the world is powered by fossil fuels, and idealistic kids can’t change that. 

He pointed to the lightbulb above our heads. Right now, he told us, we need fossil fuels for energy and electricity, which heats our classrooms and keeps our lights on. As he spoke, I heard the passionate and informed call of my peers, professors, and alumni reduced to a gross oversimplification.  

It does not take an expert — as Greta Thunberg shows, it can take only a clear-eyed teenager — to know that with millions facing climate-induced displacement by 2050 and the world on the verge of the sixth mass extinction, we are in an emergency situation. Our call to action is one informed by this stark ecological reality and represents a deliberate strategy to confront it; yet, still, Harvard ignores us. It is long past time for our universities to have come on board.  

In fact, the ignorance can seem willful. Elite universities like Harvard claim to be leaders in fighting climate change, yet maintain deep financial ties to the fossil fuel industry. No amount of research or on-campus energy efficiency can mitigate the damage done by investing in the continued existence of the companies driving the climate crisis and the global injustices it perpetuates. At the most basic level, serious climate action means ending investments in the system of extraction and exploitation that these companies’ model of business represents. Yet even before divesting, universities must acknowledge the dollars they are putting into dirty energy. 

So long as they keep their money in the dark, our most privileged universities evade public accountability for investment practices that are morally unjustifiable and contradictory to their educational missions. Currently, 99 percent of Harvard’s endowment remains hidden from the public. We cannot know whether all of that 99 percent or none of is invested in the fossil fuel industry. But we do know that in 2015, Harvard invested tens of millions in fossil fuels, only announcing a “pause” of direct investments after seven Harvard students filed a lawsuit enjoining their holdings. And according to Colin Butterfield, head of natural resources at the Harvard Management Company, Harvard still invests in fossil fuel companies indirectly through outside funds. Scaled up, that means hundreds of millions of Harvard’s dollars could be propping up the fossil fuel industry. 

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Thanks !

Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !