Students Stage Day of Action As Harvard University Refuses to Divest From Fossil Fuels
Student activists with the Divest Harvard campaign blockaded one of the main entrances to Harvard University President Drew Faust’s office in Harvard Yard today, kicking off a day of non-violent action. Students are calling for an open debate about fossil fuel divestment with the Harvard Corporation after having been denied a public meeting with the administration since fall 2013, according to the groups press release.
Supported by 350.org and Better Future Project, the campaign is part of a global movement including more than 400 campuses calling for endowments to divest from publicly traded coal, oil and gas companies that own the majority of the world’s carbon reserves. The fossil fuel divestment movements aims to stigmatize and decrease the influence of fossil fuel companies responsible for the worsening climate crisis.
Divest Harvard is calling on the university to:
- Immediately freeze any new investments in fossil fuel companies
- Immediately divest direct holdings (currently $17.3 million) from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies
- Divest indirect holdings in the top 200 fossil fuel companies within five years and reinvest in socially responsible funds
Watch Tim DeChristopher speak at today's event:
The Harvard administration has repeatedly refused to participate in open and transparent dialogue about fossil fuel divestment, instead holding meetings with trustees behind closed doors and making public statements that dismiss concerns about the dangerous political influence of fossil fuel corporations.
“The university’s failure to respond to demands for an open discussion of its investments in fossil fuels shows a lack of respect for student opinion,” said Brett Roche, undergraduate and blockade participant. “If a Harvard education is truly meant to liberate students to challenge and to lead, then the administration should be ready to engage with students organizing for institutional change.”
In addition to the blockade, a day-long rally is taking place that features music and speeches by alumni, faculty, social justice groups and prominent climate activists, including Tim DeChristopher. The students are encouraging passers-by to make T-shirts, banners and other crafts as well as write letters to President Faust and members of the Harvard Corporation about why they support fossil fuel divestment.
“We want to get President Faust’s attention,” said Sidni Frederick, undergraduate and Divest Harvard member. “It’s important for the university’s leadership to know that the student body can’t wait any longer for them to begin a real dialogue about why they aren’t taking bolder steps in solving the climate crisis, a problem that threatens all of our futures.”
For more than two years much of the Harvard community has been calling for the university to divest. In 2012 72 percent of students voted for divestment and earlier this month 93 faculty members sent a strongly worded open letter to President Faust and fellows of the school admonishing the university for refusing to consider divestment.
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Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
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