As Colorado Floods Worsen, Divestment Gets Personal

A Divest Harvard rally outside of President Faust’s office last spring.

This past week, my hometown flooded. In what experts are calling a “thousand-year flood,” a year’s worth of rain fell on Boulder, Colorado and Colorado’s Front Range in just a few days.

The resulting deluge ripped up roads, flooded homes, and flipped cars. Amidst the chaos, over 12,000 residents were forced from their homes and six died. When the rain stopped, some 1,700 families lost their homes, and many more will go weeks or longer without road access, clean water, or electricity.

All of this, of course, is taking place a year after Colorado endured the single most destructive wildfire in its history. Does any of this sound familiar?

“Extreme weather events” are an increasingly common calamity in our day. As global mean temperatures rise, things are getting a little crazy, and not just in Colorado.

After all, just last year, the Eastern Seaboard was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, one of the costliest hurricanes in U.S. history. California just concluded the hottest year in its recorded history. And more than 60% of the continental United States is experiencing drought, with over 1,000 counties declared to be “disaster areas.”

Global mean temperatures are rising because of carbon pollution. With rising temperature come extreme risks—of which extreme weather is just one. Thankfully, we aren’t sitting on our hands.

Scientists at Harvard have been at the forefront of establishing the connection between carbon pollution and changes in our Earth. Economists here and elsewhere have long asserted that the solution is to internalize the externalities of fossil fuels—to put a price on carbon.

But lawyers, business leaders, and politicians from Harvard and elsewhere have been thus far unable to
make the change.

The reasons are clear: the fossil fuel industry, the richest industry in the history of the world, holds massive wealth and formidable political power, and it is diametrically opposed to increasing the price of its cash commodity.

Last spring, students at Harvard Law School voted by a wide margin to divest Harvard’s very, very large endowment ($32 billion — the largest university endowment in the world) from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel polluters.

Why? Today, as bondholders, we loan Exxon and its compatriots the capital to expand operations in the rapidly-melting Arctic, to develop more effective hydraulic fracturing technologies, and to run massive tar sand operations, to name a few.

As shareholders, we profit directly from the extraction and release of carbon that’s wrecking our climate.
This investment behavior is deeply irrational. More importantly, it is profoundly immoral: Because the effects of carbon operate on a half-century-long lag, we are quite literally investing in the carbon that will harm our children.

This is old news to the students of Harvard-we voted for divestment, after all.

And we know divestment works. Students at Harvard rallied for years to divest from apartheid South Africa, eventually helping turn the tide in that fight. We’ve voted. The time has come to demand that our institution follow through.

Does anybody know a good lawyer?

To get involved with Divest Harvard, please contact Alec Harris at

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