Harvard President Says Fossil Fuel Divestment Unnecessary, "Hypocritical"

Wed, 2014-03-05 18:00Farron Cousins
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Harvard President Says Fossil Fuel Divestment Unnecessary, "Hypocritical"

A degree from Harvard University was once seen as the pinnacle of achievement in higher education.  Parents would boast proudly that their child was attending one of the most prestigious universities in America, and a diploma from Harvard could almost guarantee you a job in whichever field you chose.

But today, Harvard’s image is being tarnished by fossil fuels.  The university still maintains considerable holdings in fossil fuels in their endowment funds, and according to University President Drew Faust, that isn’t going to change in the near future.

Faust has long been an opponent of fossil fuel divestment, and refuses to take part in the larger movement of universities and other institutions who are pulling their endowment funds out of dirty energy financial holdings.  Harvard currently has an endowment worth over $30 billion, the largest of any other institution in the United States. 

ClimateProgress has been following Faust’s anti-divestment campaign for some time, and has completely debunked all of Faust’s talking points on the issue of divestment.  In 2013, Faust released a letter explaining her reasoning for refusing to divest, which includes: fossil fuel companies won’t notice; divestment would hurt Harvard’s bottom line; the endowment is not a tool for social change; and that divestment is hypocritical.

As ClimateProgress pointed out at the time, all of Faust’s reasoning rests on faulty logic.  First of all, divesting from fossil fuels would send a big message to the dirty energy industry and would easily inspire others to do the same.  Second, as fossil fuel reserves are depleted, the companies' stocks will plummet, which will have a significant impact on Harvard’s bottom line.  And third, on hypocrisy, it is not hypocritical to remove your financial holdings from an industry that is making money at the expense of human and environmental health.

But Faust clearly cannot be swayed by logic, and this week her ignorance was put on full display when a young activist named Alli Welton from Divest Harvard put Faust on the spot and asked her why her university refuses to divest from the dirty energy industry.  ClimateProgress provides the video:

Faust honestly believes that the fossil fuel industry is not standing in the way of renewable energy, which can only mean that she is either living in a state of complete denial, or that she hasn’t bothered to keep up with current events for the last few decades.

Again, Joe Romm at ClimateProgress takes Faust to task on her facts:

The oil, gas, and coal industries have spent over $2 billion lobbying Congress since 1999. In 2009 alone, the oil and gas industry “unleashed a fury of lobbying expenditures” against climate legislation, “spending $175 million — easily an industry record — and outpacing the pro-environmental groups by nearly eight-fold, according to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis.”

Indeed, the fossil fuel industry is not content these days to merely block new legislation to advance clean energy. They are working in a numerous states to roll back existing clean energy standards.

The leader of what once was the shining light of higher education has lowered her institution to the position of a mere biostitute — a person or group willing to deny what science is telling us for the right price. 

Luckily, Faust is virtually alone in her refusal to divest, as even the largest financial organizations on the planet, including the World Bank, have endorsed fossil fuel divestment, claiming that it is unsustainable financially, and that continuing to invest is to deny the harsh reality that is climate change.

Years ago, people might think that her leadership position at Harvard would mean that she probably knows more than the average person.  But today, it seems the students are the true leaders pushing their president not to remain a pawn for the dirty energy industry.

Previous Comments

While I know bringing Harvard on board the divestment campaign would be a big feather in the cap of evviros, it is clearly not going to happen. There is way too much money be made in Fossil fules these days. So all that leaves is bashing the school's president in hopes of scaring other schools into submission. A tried and true tactic of the fringe left.

Personally, I feel a grudging respect for Faust, she is true to her choices and won't bow to any pressure.

I first heard about this from the financial industry.  We are a climate disaster away from mass pull outs from the carbon economy.  I have no clue where you get these views that this is some how just enviro groups concerned about this.

There is risk with fossil fuel investments.  Namely if you slow or cease using them, their asset values will plummet like a rock.  Current value in Carbon is some 6 times the 2008 Sub Prime global melt down.  If that money was to disappear it would hurt the global economy severely.  Its a far bigger Sub-Prime Disaster waiting to happen.

While that might seem all doom and gloom, it is never the less a fact, and predictable, and its coming.  You can chose to address it, or bury your head in the sand as Faust is.

Faust has essentially commited to loosing all that investment money.

As you know, Paul Martin in Canada locked Canada's banks out of the subprime disaster after watching multiple Asian bank melt downs.  He accurately predicted what would happen and attempted to prevent it.  Harper deregulated Canadian banks for 1 year before the melt down, and that was one bitter pill for Canada to swallow.  Yet we still looked smarter than the rest of the world.

Just an FYI, but I'm ambivalent to divestment.  I'd rather see a Carbon Tax, and let the world economy adjust gracefully.  Opposition to a Carbon Tax will make all this much much worse.