On Nov. 16, the Harvard College Undergraduate Council announced that the student body had voted 72 percent in favor of Harvard University divesting its $30.7 billion endowment from fossil fuels.
Members of the Harvard chapter of Students for a Just and Stable Future have been campaigning since September to divest Harvard’s endowment from the top 200 publicly-traded fossil fuel corporations that own the majority of the world’s oil, coal and gas reserves.
Chloe Maxmin, a co-coordinator for Divest Harvard, said that the election results show unprecedented student voice around divestment: “In 1990, 52 percent of voting students supported complete divestment from apartheid South Africa. Today 72 percent of voting students are raising their voices for fossil divestment, telling Harvard to stop investing in companies that are threatening our future.”
Divest Harvard was the first student group in six years to successfully qualify a referendum question for Harvard student government elections, gaining hundreds of signatures beyond the 670 (10 percent of the undergraduate student body) necessary for qualification. The passage of the referendum makes fossil fuel divestment the official position of the Harvard College Undergraduate Council.
The Divest Harvard campaign, supported by Better Future Project and 350.org, is part of a quickly-growing fossil fuel divestment movement that has spread to more than 50 universities and colleges across the country. Inspired by the 1980s divestment movement the helped end apartheid in South Africa, the groups hope that fossil fuel divestment will help solve the climate crisis by stigmatizing the fossil fuel industry and supporting a clean energy future.
350.org founder, and Harvard alum, Bill McKibben is currently on a 21-city Do the Math tour which is promoting fossil fuel divestment to sell-out audiences across the country. More than 2,000 people attended the event in Boston at the Orpheum Theater last Thursday night.
“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.”
The divestment campaign has scored some early victories across the country, with Unity College in Maine announcing they would fully divest their endowment and the Mayor of Seattle pledging to look into divesting city funds.
Students at Harvard hope that the overwhelming support for the resolution will convince President Faust to end her refusal to meet with them to discuss divestment. The president recently stated in a public forum that Harvard University only divests in “the most extreme of circumstances” and that no issue made her feel “compelled to divest” at this time.
In the past, Harvard University has divested from tobacco corporations, corporations that supported the genocide in Darfur, and (in part) corporations involved in apartheid South Africa.
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