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Harvard Board Member Resigns in Protest Over School's Investments in 'Pernicious Activities,' Including Fossil Fuels

"For Harvard to continue to profit from activities that might and likely do accelerate us toward climate disaster, enslave millions to unfair labor practices, or proliferate more and more weapons in society that threaten especially young lives is unconscionable."

Students, faculty, alumni, and community members take part in the final rally of "Harvard Heat Week" on April 17th, 2015. (Photo: 350 .org/flickr/cc)

Students, faculty, alumni, and community members take part in the final rally of "Harvard Heat Week" on April 17th, 2015. (Photo: 350 .org/flickr/cc)

Noted climate campaigner and author Bill McKibben declared it "a sign that the message has gotten through" after a member of a Harvard University oversight board resigned in protest over the continued investments of the Ivy League school's $37.1 billion endowment in "pernicious activities," including fossil fuels.

Kathryn A. "Kat" Taylor, who's also the co-CEO of Beneficial State Bank and wife of billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer, submitted her letter one day before what would have been the last day of her six-year term, making it her "last act" in power.

In the letter, she denounces "the potential presence in that endowment of fossil fuel reserves we can never afford to burn, land purchases that may not respect indigenous rights, water holdings that threaten the human right to water, and investments at odds with the safety of children and first responders. But we don't know what we don't know, especially now that so much of the endowment is held in opaque funds. And not knowing what endowment investments might be supporting will never be an excuse."

"For Harvard to continue to profit from activities that might and likely do accelerate us toward climate disaster, enslave millions to unfair labor practices, or proliferate more and more weapons in society that threaten especially young lives is unconscionable," she writes.

She also lays down the gauntlet to those remaining on the 32-member Board of Overseers, one of the school's two governing boards, calling on them "to inspire the drafting of standards that will, at last, protect the president and the corporation and the institution of Harvard from unwitting, much less proactive, complicity," and says such an act would likely trigger "a floodgate of similarly principled decisions that truly move markets, policy, hearts, and minds."

Taylor's resignation comes roughly two months after she penned an op-ed at the Harvard Crimson calling on the school and its incoming president "to divest from fossils fuels to prevent the end of life as we know it through cascading climate-driven disasters. This single act would not only take steps to address the existential crisis of our time, but it would allow the university to lead its peers, as few, if any, American universities thus far have taken this important moral stance."

Last year, following years of campaigning by its students, Harvard announced it was "pausing" some fossil fuel investments, though not fully divesting from all fossil fuels.

In his statement on Wednesday, McKibben said, "The establishment is really beginning to crack apart on this question of climate change—when you have a bank president resigning her Harvard post to protest inaction on divestment it's a sign that the message has gotten through."

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