Harvard faculty call for divestment

A powerful statement from faculty at Harvard, calling for divestment (read it in full here):

Faculty of Harvard University to the President and Fellows

April 10, 2014

Our University invests in the fossil fuel industry: this is for us the central issue.  We now know that fossil fuels cause climate change of unprecedented destructive potential.  We also know that many in this industry spend large sums of money to mislead the public, deny climate science, control legislation and regulation, and suppress alternative energy sources.

We are therefore disappointed in the statements on divestment made by President Faust on October 3, 2013 and April 7, 2014.  They appear to misconstrue the purposes and effectiveness of divestment.  We believe that the Corporation is making a decision that in the long run will not serve the University well.

Our sense of urgency in signing this Letter cannot be overstated.  Humanity’s reliance on burning fossil fuels is leading to a marked warming of the Earth’s surface, a melting of ice the world over, a rise in sea levels, acidification of the oceans, and an extreme, wildly fluctuating, and unstable global climate.  These physical and chemical changes, some of which are expected to last hundreds, if not thousands, of years are already threatening the survival of countless species on all continents.  And because of their effects on food production, water availability, air pollution, and the emergence and spread of human infectious diseases, they pose unparalleled risks to human health and life.

The World Health Organization estimated in 2005 that climate change caused some 150,000 deaths worldwide each year.  The heads of the American College of Physicians and the Royal College of Physicians of London in 2009 joined leaders of medical colleges from 12 other countries in calling climate change “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.”

Divestment is an act of ethical responsibility, a protest against current practices that cannot be altered as quickly or effectively by other means.  The University either invests in fossil fuel corporations, or it divests.  If the Corporation regards divestment as “political,” then its continued investment is a similarly political act, one that finances present corporate activities and calculates profit from them.

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.

In the past, the University did divest from certain industries on ethical grounds.  Harvard’s leadership—initiated by faculty, students, and alumni—is credited with making campaigns against apartheid and smoking far more effective.

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