Harvard Activists Call for Fossil Fuel Divestment

Students, faculty, and alumni mark Earth Day by kicking off ‘Heat Week.’

Harvard University students, faculty, and alumni marked Earth Day by kicking of a week of climate-related rallies and calling on the university’s $39.2 billion endowment to eliminate fossil fuel-related companies from its investment portfolio.

Divest Harvard, a fossil fuel divestment advocacy group began this year’s “Heat Week” with a press conference in a Cambridge, Mass., hotel where the group invited alumni, faculty, and environmental advocates to pressure the university to divest from fossil fuels.

“Fossil fuels have been the energy that we have used since hominids came on this earth, but we do not need to be Neanderthals in terms of understanding what we need to do moving forward,” Gina McCarthy, a professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health who was also a former EPA administrator, said at the press conference. “It is time for Harvard and other Ivy League schools to divest. They know better. Get over it. Move forward.”

Heat Week was launched by Divest Harvard in 2015 when students and some faculty members blockaded the university’s oldest surviving building for a week, occupied the Harvard Alumni Association headquarters for two days, and blockaded University Hall.

According to student group Harvard Undergraduates for Environmental Justice, this year’s Heat Week is a series of events intended to draw attention to the severity of the climate crisis, in addition to raising the call for Harvard to divest from the fossil fuel industry. The group is hosting two civil disobedience trainings, three panels featuring local, institutional, and global speakers, and four public actions. The week’s activities will end with a rally called “Flood Harvard” in Harvard Yard on April 26.

However, Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow has maintained that the university’s endowment should not divest from fossil fuel companies, but should instead engage them to foster change.

In a March interview with student newspaper The Harvard Crimson, Bacow reiterated Harvard’s policy against divestment, saying the endowment is not, has never been, and should not be a vehicle for social change.

“The endowment exists to support the institution, to support our students, and to support our faculty,” Bacow said. “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.”

And this week in an emailed statement to the Crimson, university spokesperson Jonathan Swain reiterated Harvard’s stance on the issue.

“The university’s position, as it has stated previously, is that it should not use the endowment to achieve political ends, or particular policy ends,” Swain wrote.

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