My Letter to Harvard President Lawrence Bacow

Wednesday, October 2, 2019 (Listed under Environment)

Below is the letter I sent to Harvard's President, urging him to divest the University from fossil fuels.  

Feel free to lift any of the sections, quotes or stats that may be appropriate for a letter to your or your children's alma mater.

The information below can also be used to appeal to other institutions to divest, including the corporate divisions of your bank, pension company, local businesses or faith-based organisation. You can use an adaptation of this letter to pitch a discussion around the importance of divestment with local polititians, friends and clubs. If you have any questions concering the topic, please feel free to send me a note at StacyClarkClimate@gmail.com. And if you'd like to dive into the science of climatechange, I encourage you to enroll in Dr. Michael E. Mann's free edX course: Climate Change: The Science and the Global Impact

If you're motivated to follow the social, political and economic movements working hard to mobilize engagement around climate education and divestment, I recommend you begin with 350.org, ClimateRealityProject.org and DivestInvest.org

 

Dear President Bacow:

People around the world recognize Harvard as one of the leading institutions of higher education on the planet—a place where bright, curious students explore the world and its possibilities. Below, I make my best case for why Harvard must divest its endowment from fossil fuels.

 

Background

Two of Harvard's most distinguished alums, author Bill McKibben and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, along with their respective non-profits, 350.org and ClimateRealityProject.org, have been petitioning Harvard's administration to divest for years. And with good reason. The reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are stark. The world is facing its sixth mass extinction because of the exploration for and burning of fossil fuels.

During Drew Faust's Presidency, Divest Harvard students witnessed many pivots and excuses coming from the administration whenever questions relating to Harvard's willingness to divest were posed. There was much talk of innovation and there were impressive roadshow presentations for Harvard donors, but there was never any thoughtful response to the students' assertion that Harvard's investments make the University complicit in the climate crisis. The students called for action to protect their future and never received anything more than platitudes. And written responses from President Faust to donors who were requesting that Harvard divest were underwhelming to say the least. Pointing to solar panels on your buildings is not an appropriate response to a global crisis that demands institutional economic and energy change at every level.

 

Harvard's Latest Vision on Climate

Today, I read your Sept.13th article on Harvard's aim to meet the challenge of climate change through a doubling down on research and education. I realized that even in the bright light of global climate awareness that shined on all of us last week, as Climate Strike events unfolded around the world, Harvard remains, inexplicably, in the dark. Research and reflection are luxuries that we no longer are afforded by the very real physics of climate change, President Bacow. With your impressive background in environmental policy and economics, I know that you understand this. So, I expect that you will rise higher to meet the climate challenge in the days and weeks ahead.

While I am aware that it is inconvenient to undo the ties that tether Harvard to the fossil fuel industry, it must be done. Because we have dithered and dodged for so long, it is only through divestment that Harvard will be able to make any material contribution to solving the climate crisis. Not only must you divest, but you must lead by recruiting other academic institutions to do the same.

There is no other path.

There is no more time.

Everything we love is at risk. Our children, their children, the world as we know it.

 

Who's Divesting?

More than 1,100 institutions with assets worth over $11 trillion dollars have committed to divest from fossil fuels, up from $52 billion just five years ago. This includes hundreds of colleges and universities around the world.

The University of California System, with assets over $13 billion, just announced it was completing its divestment from fossil fuels by month's end. As well, their $80 billion pension will be doing the same in short order. Their imperative is to reduce the very significant and growing financial risk that holding fossil fuel stocks represent.

NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer has announced the City's plans to divest from fossil fuels: “To fight climate change...” Stringer said, “…we need to use every tool—including the biggest and the boldest. That's why NYC has begun the process of divesting from fossil fuels, while putting billions into sustainable energy. It's how we truly move forward to combat our climate crisis.”

 

The Facts

If we are to achieve the IPCC's best-case scenario for limiting planetary warming to 1.5° centigrade (based on a pre-industrial CO2 baseline of roughly 280 parts per million), we must, at the very least:

• reduce global carbon emissions 5% or more each year for ten years;

• deploy ever-larger renewable energy power projects across the nation;

• remove fossil fuel subsidies, which continue to reward the egregiously manipulative behavior of the fossil fuel industry; and

• keep total global carbon emissions under the remaining 350 gigatons “carbon budget.”

Divesting from fossil fuels is now THE lynchpin that will make these goals achievable within the very narrow window of opportunity that we have. With the largest academic endowment of any school, Harvard has a responsibility to step up and leverage its influence.

 

What Tomorrow Could Look Like

President Bacow, I encourage you to imagine what tomorrow will look like when Harvard announces its plans to divest its endowment from fossil fuels:

• Harvard will be the first Ivy League school to sound the bell that global institutional change is at play in literally saving the planet from destruction;

• Harvard will be heralded by students and alums for being on the right side of history at a time when it matters more than ever;

• Other universities will certainly follow—and swiftly;

• The moral imperative of climate action will be undeniable;

• Billions of dollars will flow out of fossil fuels and into renewable energy technologies;

• In Massachusetts, where the southeast coast is an important wind energy hub for the expansion of offshore wind power, new jobs, businesses and industries will emerge. These are the places that Harvard graduates will work;

• The Paris Agreement's goal of making finance flows consistent with a pathway toward low emissions and climate-resilient development will be within reach!

 

Finally…

Within a few years of divesting, you'll be meeting with alums and donors to celebrate a rather extraordinary achievement. Harvard will have stepped onto the global stage as a voice for the future. The renewable energy economy will be well on its way—fully materialized in the same time that it took to get us to the moon, once President Kennedy expressed that there was nothing standing in the way of making that remarkable journey.

Respectfully,

Stacy Clark


cc: N.P. Narvekar, CEO, Harvard Management Company

 






 


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