Former US Vice President Al Gore has called on his alma mater Harvard University’s $39.2 billion endowment to divest of fossil fuel investments in a speech given to students at the university’s 2019 Class Day.
“We are putting 110 million tons of man-made, heat-trapping global pollution into the sky every day as if it is an open sewer,” Gore said, “and the accumulated quantity now traps as much extra heat energy every day as would be released by 500 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs exploding every 24 hours.”
During his post-political career, Gore has become a prominent environmental activist, winning the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as an Academy Award for his documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2007. He called climate change “a threat to the survival of human civilization as we know it” and that divestment is “a moral issue” for Harvard.
“Why would Harvard University continue to support with its finances an industry like this that is in the process of threatening the future of humanity?” Gore said. “The largest sovereign wealth fund in the world in Norway financed completely by oil and gas revenues has started divesting from fossil fuels, and so should Harvard University.”
Gore equated the investment in fossil fuels to Harvard’s previous controversial investments.
“It was immoral to continue investing in apartheid, but the university did respond as they responded when they realized it was immoral to invest in tobacco stocks,” Gore said. “Well, let me tell you that the oil companies and gas and coal companies today have been following the same strategy innovated by the tobacco companies years ago.”
Harvard’s endowment has been under ongoing pressure from students, faculty, and alumni to divest from fossil fuels. In April, Divest Harvard, a fossil fuel divestment advocacy group, marked Earth Day with a week of climate-related rallies known as “Heat Week.” And last year Kathryn “Kat” Taylor resigned as a member of Harvard’s Board of Overseers to protest the university’s failure to address what she said are unethical investments in fossil fuel companies.
Despite the protests and pressure, Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow has remained steadfast in his objection to divesting from fossil fuel companies, and instead has advocated engaging the companies to change.
“The endowment exists to support the institution, to support our students, and to support our faculty,” Bacow said in a March interview with student newspaper The Harvard Crimson. “And it was on those terms that our donors have entrusted the resources to us. They’ve said here, here are these resources which we want you to invest to support these activities—not to accomplish some other ends.”
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