Summary of the Letter

Harvard faculty members signing this Open Letter are disappointed in the President’s statements regarding divestment from the fossil fuel industry.  The October 3, 2013 statement treats University investments in fossil fuel corporations as if they were like all other investments, and the announcement of April 7, 2014 reiterates the conviction that divestment is an option that the Corporation is unwilling to consider.  Many fossil fuel corporations misinform the public, promote denials of accepted science, and exert an undue degree of influence on government, while marketing a product the consumption of which cannot be sustained.

Extreme weather, rising levels of acidified oceans, reductions in biodiversity, and major threats to human health with disproportionate impact on the poor, all expected to persist for centuries or millennia—these are among the grave, documented consequences of continued fossil fuel extraction and consumption.  We urge the Corporation to recognize that they warrant the same degree of serious investor action as tobacco or apartheid South Africa.

Increasingly, international financial and political institutions warn of the risks of fossil fuel investment; and increasingly, academic institutions and major pension funds are publicly moving to divest.  They do so in response to overwhelming scientific evidence and objective economic analysis.

The President’s statements claim that while Harvard owns a very small fraction of these stocks representing a small fraction of its endowment, the University will exert greater influence if it continues to hold these shares than if it openly divests.  This indicates a misunderstanding of the purpose and goals of divestment, and ignores the lessons of the past.

Finally, the statements construe divestment as a political act discordant with purposes of the endowment. We do not dispute the political character of divestment.  We wish to remind the Corporation that Harvard boasts a tradition of divestment for ethical purposes—and that now, with massive global consequences from climate change occurring, continued investment represents a political act, too.  We therefore ask that the Corporation begin, as soon as possible, to divest from fossil fuel corporations.