Harvard Students to Endowment: 'Ditch Fossil Fuels!'

Harvard's students are pressing for the university endowment to shed its fossil fuel investments.

(November 28, 2012) — More than 70% of Harvard University’s roughly 3,600 undergraduate students want to ditch fossil fuel investments from the school’s endowment.

Earlier this month, the Harvard College Undergraduate Council revealed students had voted–by a large margin–for the $30.7 billion university endowment to divest from the top 200 publicly traded companies that own the majority of fossil fuel reserves.

The overwhelming support for the divestment follows a slew of similar campaigns at other colleges around the country. “We are so excited that Harvard and so many other schools have joined the movement. In particular, we were thrilled to hear that 72% of the Harvard student body supported the referendum,” Sachie Hopkins-Hayakawa, an organizer of the fossil fuel divestment campaign at Swarthmore College, wrote in an email to the Harvard Crimson, the university’s newspaper.

Nevertheless, Harvard’s administration said that it is “not considering” divestment, and student attempts to meet University President Drew G. Faust to discuss the issue have been unsuccessful, the Crimson reported.

“In 1990, 52% of voting students supported complete divestment from apartheid South Africa,” said Chloe Maxmin, a co-coordinator for Harvard University student organization Divest Harvard, in a statement. “[Now] 72% of voting students are raising their voices for fossil divestment, telling Harvard to stop investing in companies that are threatening our future.”

Pressure among environmental activists on asset owners to divest from fossil fuels is apparent. Last year, a report, warning of a “carbon bubble”, argued that the world’s financial markets have vastly inflated the value of fossil fuel reserves because future regulation will ensure that most of it will remain in the ground. The research by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a group claiming to offer a “new way of looking at the carbon emissions problem,” asserted that a “carbon bubble” has occurred because financial markets have valued known fossil fuel reserves as assets. The report, “Unburnable Carbon –Are the World’s Financial Markets Carrying a Carbon Bubble?”, thus argued that valuing fossil fuel reserves as assets is a mistake.

As asset owners increasingly look to commodities for inflation hedges and diversification, they may need to reconsider the long-term stability of those investments, the report said. Asset owners need to ask whether their “asset allocation decisions [are] based on obsolete data regarding the full risks facing fossil fuel reserves” and whether a large portion of their investments “may be unburnable carbon.”