Harvard Faculty Slam College Over ‘Misconstrued’ Climate Change Pledge

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More than 100 distinguished faculty members at Harvard have signed an open letter to college president Drew Faust, saying her recent pledge to take climate change more seriously did not go far enough.

Faust had announced Monday that, in response to mounting pressure from a student activist group, Harvard would commit to making more environmentally responsible and sustainable investments with its $33 billion endowment. Faust did not, however, do what the student group had really wanted: a commitment from their school to completely divest from climate-change-causing fossil fuels.

On Thursday, the group of faculty — ranging from the Nobel Peace-winning founder of Harvard Medical’s Center for Health, the Curator of Ancient Coins at the Harvard Art Museum, and the Interim Chairman of the English Department — agreed with the students, slamming Faust’s public statements opposing divestment as inaccurate and irresponsible. From the letter:

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.

A spokesperson from Harvard did not immediately return a request for comment.

Citing figures from the World Health Organization that estimated some 150,000 deaths worldwide from climate change, the letter argued that full divestment is an act of “ethical responsibility.” The letter also picked apart Faust’s earlier argument that the school would not divest because it was too political of a move, saying the act of investing in fossil fuels is inherently political, as it “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,” the letter read. “Slavery was once an investment issue, as were apartheid and the harm caused by smoking.”

The Harvard faculty letter is part of a growing movement to get schools, businesses, and other entities to not only stop investing in fossil fuels, but to pull all their investments out of them for the sake of mitigating the release of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, which causes global warming. Divest Harvard — the name of the Harvard student activist group — is one of more than 300 similar campaigns at universities across the country.

So far, nine colleges, 22 cities and a number of religious institutions and other groups have pledged to divest.