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Harvard Students Vote to Divest From Fossil Fuels

- Common Dreams staff

Harvard University students overwhelmingly voted in support of divesting from fossil fuels on Friday, an act that adds the university to a nascent but growing movement modeled after the  anti-apartheid divestment campaigns of the 80s.

photo: neutralSurface via flickr Student network Students for a Just and Stable Future launched Divest Harvard and spent months campaigning for the divestment, which answers the heart of the call of 350.org's national "Do the Math" tour. On Friday students showed their support for the move, voting 72% in favor of divesting the school's $30.7 billion endowment from fossil fuels.

Chloe Maxmin, a co-coordinator for Divest Harvard, said that results show massive support for the campaign. “In 1990, 52% of voting students supported complete divestment from apartheid South Africa. Today 72% of voting students are raising their voices for fossil divestment, telling Harvard to stop investing in companies that are threatening our future,” she said.

Maxmin and Harvard student Alli Welton, also a coordinator with Students for a Just and Stable Future, write how the university's president, Drew Faust, has been contradictory on sustainability:

Harvard President Drew Faust has called sustainability “one of the paramount issues of our time” and the university has made an effort to live up to that statement through campus greening efforts. For instance, Harvard committed to ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals, installed renewable energy and became the first higher education institution with fifty LEED-certified buildings. However, the positive impact of campus projects is inconsequential when compared to the climate damage done by Harvard’s investments in fossil fuel corporations. And, to great disappointment, President Faust has repeatedly affirmed her support for Harvard’s fossil fuel investments, stating in meetings and public forums that the endowment is not a tool to pursue social goals and exists solely to fund the university.

In response, students point to several examples where Harvard has used its money for social good. The university fully divested from tobacco corporations for public health concerns and partially divested from apartheid South Africa for human rights reasons. Today, the climate crisis threatens the survival of millions, if not billions of people, and yet President Faust—in a public meeting—insisted that Harvard divests only in the “most extreme of circumstances” and that she does not “feel compelled to do that at this time.”

But Maxmin and Welton write that Faust's lack of action only served to foster the divestment campaign.

The move comes on the heels of Unity College in Maine and Hampshire College in Massachusetts divesting their endowments from fossil fuels. 

Emily Kirkland, a senior at Brown University, sees hope in the growing movement, suggesting they can be part of a "bold vision" to address climate change and optimistically notes the growing calls for fossil fuel divestment at schools across the nation:

There are active campaigns underway on 47 campuses across the US, with new schools joining the fight every week. Divestment campaigns are happening everywhere: at small liberal arts colleges and huge state universities, art schools and engineering schools, obscure hippy colleges and some of the country’s best known institutions. The divestment campaigns have received a new jolt of energy in recent weeks as Bill McKibben and 350.org’s “Do the Math” tour promotes fossil fuel divestment as a central strategy for challenging the power of the carbon barons. "If it’s wrong to wreck the climate, then it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage," McKibben told students at his alma mater, Harvard, last week.

McKibben, 350.org founder and Harvard alum, praised the move by Harvard students. “Forget the outcome of the Harvard-Yale game, nothing has made me prouder to be a Harvard alum than the news that its students are leading the country in standing up to coal and gas and oil,” said McKibben. “Let’s hope the Harvard Corporation cares as much about the future.”