Vote Yes: Why Harvard Should Divest from Fossil Fuels

Harvard has the largest university endowment in the world, totaling around $30.7 billion. In November of last year, Harvard undergrads voted overwhelmingly to demand that the University divest that endowment from the fossil fuel industry. Here are a few reasons why law students should also vote to divest when polls open Monday, April 22 at the Law School.


Reason One: It’s morally wrong to profit from wrecking the climate.

The logic is simple: if it is wrong to wreck the planet, then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage.

The problem with the business model of these companies is just as simple. Even a 2-degree increase in global temperature will cause mass displacement, widespread drought, countless extinctions, and devastating sea level rise. Yet fossil fuel companies collectively own five times more fossil fuels than can be burned while keeping global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. This means that 80% of the fossil fuel reserves that are already factored into their share prices must remain in the ground if we are to avoid catastrophic global warming.

It is both morally wrong and intellectually inconsistent for Harvard to profit from this destruction while educating students about global warming and conducting some of the world’s most important climate research.


Reason Two: We don’t have to invest in these companies.

Fossil fuel companies may be profitable, but we do not need to invest in them to run a highly successful endowment.

In a meeting with students on April 9, Harvard Corporation Fellow Robert Reischauer confirmed that divestment from direct holdings in the fossil fuel industry would have a “minimal impact” on our endowment’s returns. Other investment firms have also concluded that divestment would produce a “negligible” and “statistically irrelevant” impact on risk or profit.


Reason Three: Harvard has previously divested from morally reprehensible industries.

Lest you think this is a radical move, Harvard has a history of divesting from morally reprehensible business practices. The University divested entirely from tobacco in 1990 and partially from apartheid in 1986. Harvard was also the first University in the nation to divest from PetroChina, a firm linked to genocide in Darfur, in 2005.


Reason Four: Divestment is an important political tool.           

Global warming implicates huge problems and broken institutions. Divestment allows those of us who care about the future of our planet to bring the fight home, to conduct the debate on reasoned and scientific grounds, and to use working institutions to build momentum that will force broken institutions—like Congress and these companies—to act.

Because after Harvard divests, countless other universities will follow in its steps to divest their own endowments. Indeed, there is a quickly growing divestment movement, with smaller colleges and larger cities having already divested.

In this sense, divestment is about more than hurting the bottom line of fossil fuel companies. After all, these companies will play an important role in researching and producing alternative sources of energy.

However, fossil fuel companies will not change their business model until congress makes them account for the true social and environmental costs of fossil fuel production. Only then will the fossil fuel industry even begin to meaningfully transition toward new sources of energy.

Divestment is both a shot across the bow to these companies and a shot in the arm to Congress.


Reason Five: Your family deserves a future without catastrophic global warming.

Why should you vote to divest from fossil fuels? Because it’s wrong to profit from wrecking the climate. Because these companies need a wake up call. Because our normal political process is broken.

More than anything, you should vote to divest from fossil fuels because you, as a Harvard Law student, have the privilege and opportunity to use the world’s most influential legal institution to address the biggest humanitarian crisis we have ever faced.

Vote for divestment so, when your grandkids ask what you did as the world discovered how dangerous fossil fuels really are, you can tell them you stood up. You stood up for the planet, for the hundreds of millions at risk of drought and flooding and natural disasters, and you stood up for them—your grandkids. So they never have to know a world without coral reefs or island countries or ice caps.

Many of us came to HLS to provide a better life for our family and our kids. Here’s our chance.