Saturday, April 11, 2015

Harvard Heat Week: Background and Rationale

From April 12th to April 17th, Harvard Heat Week will spearhead the next round of divestment campaigning. This peaceful initiative is an important part of the ongoing movement to divest from fossil fuels. The event may be taking place at one of the most high profile schools in the world but its influence will extend far beyond Harvard. All across New England there will be events urging colleges, governments and faith communities to divest from fossil fuels. Harvard students, faculty, alumni, and community members will come together on the Harvard campus to speak out for climate justice, learn from one another, and take principled action.

In addition to widespread student support, 200 faculty and more than 100 alumni have supported the call to divest 35.9 billion endowment from coal, gas, and oil companies. Students at Harvard have been encouraging the school's board of directors to divest for almost three years but they have been ignored. On the contrary they have doubled down on dirty energy with even more fossil fuel stock purchases.

Last year Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust dismissed student requests for divestment, stating that the university needed to be, “clear-sighted about the risks that divestment could pose to the endowment’s capacity to propel our important research and teaching mission.”

Harvard University was even sued by seven students who maintain that the school has a legal and moral responsibility to divest from fossil fuels. As the students who put forth the litigation explained, “our lawsuit simply asks Harvard to live up to its centuries-old promise to promote “the advancement of youth.”

The state of Massachusetts is being sued as well. At issue is whether students who pay tuition to an institution have the right to expect certain conduct in return. In December the state and the university filed a motion to dismiss the suit.

The combination of warming, flooding, extreme weather and ocean acidification make climate change a catastrophe that we must do everything we can to avert. It is ironic that Harvard's board of directors will not even listen to warnings from the school's own researchers.

Divestment is not just a feel good movement, it is an effective pathway to augur change. It may not bankrupt the fossil fuel industry but it does raise the profile of climate change, it also sends an important message to investors. By taking away their moral right to operate and enfeebling them political we can advance the global effort to combat climate change. We know that previous financial campaigns have succeeded. In South Africa, divestment succeeded in bringing an end to the racist apartheid regime.

We need to see less investments in fossil fuels and more investments in renewable energy. We are already seeing a number of powerful organizations divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in renewable energy. The research indicates that divestment and reinvestment is actually more profitable to investors. Concerns about carbon budgets, carbon bubbles and stranded assets compound fossil fuel risks.

Climate change is the greatest threat we face and it is caused primarily by fossil fuels. Despite misinformation from the fossil fuel industry and even some elected officials, divestment is scientifically and morally the right stance. There is a good reason why the divestment is the fastest growing movement on earth. Just like the civil rights movement, those who stand up in support of divestment are on the right side of history. The movement at Harvard is bigger than all of us. Our support is necessary for the sake of those that we love and for future generations.

Divestment is hardly a radical move. A number of universities, investors and faith groups have already divested. As explained by the organizers of the Harvard Divestment movement, "The essence of a university is that it is uniquely accountable to the past and to the future – not simply or even primarily to the present."

Social media will play a key role in expanding the reach of Harvard Heat Week. Using the #HarvardHeatWeek hashtag images, tweets, and posts will be widely disseminated on the net. People will be wearing orange as the color and symbol that unites the global divestment movement.

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