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Harvard Students Vote 72 Percent Support for Fossil Fuel Divestment

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- 2036 days ago -
At midnight on November 16, the Harvard Undergraduate Council announced that the student body had voted 72 percent in favor of divesting the University's $30.7 billion endowment from fossil fuels.

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JL A (281)
Saturday November 24, 2012, 10:50 am
Harvard Students Vote 72 Percent Support for Fossil Fuel Divestment
Alli Welton on November 20, 2012 - 2:49 PM ET

At midnight on November 16, the Harvard Undergraduate Council announced that the student body had voted 72 percent in favor of divesting the University’s $30.7 billion endowment from fossil fuels.

The vote made Harvard College the first school in the nation to pass a student referendum in support of fossil fuel divestment. The fossil fuel divestment movement has been heavily promoted by Bill McKibben, founder of, to sold-out audiences on his current 21-city Do the Math tour. Fossil fuel divestment campaigns currently exist on roughly fifty campuses across the country, and many more are expected to launch in coming weeks.

At Harvard, the results of the referendum demonstrated strong student support for fossil fuel divestment. It was the first referendum in six years to qualify for student government elections at Harvard, and one Undergraduate Council representative described the election’s 55 percent voter turnout as a “record in recent memory.” In comparison, a 1990 referendum for divestment from South African apartheid found 52 percent support among Harvard students with only 38 percent turnout. The passage of the referendum makes fossil fuel divestment a binding position of the Harvard Undergraduate Council, though the response of Harvard University’s President Faust to the vote is still unknown.

The Divest Harvard campaign, organized by the campus chapter of Students for a Just and Stable Future and supported by Better Future Project and, has called for fossil fuel divestment as a means to help solve the climate crisis. Students aim to leverage university divestment to decrease the political and economic power of fossil fuel corporations by dissuading other investors and stigmatizing the industry as a rogue industry whose profit model is simply incompatible with society.

Members of Divest Harvard have pointed out the hypocrisy of educational institutions like Harvard using their money to support industries that threaten the future of their students by causing global warming. They also make the argument that fossil fuel investments put Harvard’s endowment at great risk. Given that only 565 more gigatons of carbon can be burnt if the planet hopes to stay under 2 degrees Celsius warming (the upper limit set by the UN), 80 percent of the top 200 publicly-traded fossil fuel companies’ apparent reserves—worth $20 trillion—are untouchable. This creates a huge carbon bubble in the market. Harvard lost 30 percent of its endowment from risky investing when the housing bubble burst in 2008, and the Divest Harvard campaign has argued that the University is repeating its mistake by investing in fossil fuels.

Though President Faust has so far refused to meet with students to discuss fossil fuel divestment, she stated in a public forum that Harvard only divests in “the most extreme of circumstances” and that no existing issue made her feel “compelled to divest” at this time. The precedent that President Faust referred to includes divestment from tobacco, genocide in Darfur, and (in part) apartheid South Africa for public health and human rights reasons. Students in Divest Harvard have argued that the climate crisis is extreme enough to warrant divestment, citing a recent report that projected 100 million deaths as a consequence of fossil fuel usage over the next 18 years.

While Harvard students wait to hear whether the passage of the referendum will win them a meeting with President Faust, the news of the referendum has already had an impact on the national fossil fuel divestment movement. Inspired by Harvard’s example, students pushing for divestment at other schools such as Amherst College and Brandeis University have already begun to discuss running their own referendums.

Students at Harvard and elsewhere are cognizant that time is running short to meaningfully address climate change. The strong support of the Harvard student body in the recent referendum gives the Divest Harvard campaign a mandate to push forward with the fossil fuel divestment campaign. If the administration continues to obstruct them, Harvard students have a strong base from which they can build and escalate as the continued inaction of our institutions increases the urgency of the climate crisis.

Roger G (154)
Saturday November 24, 2012, 3:41 pm
noted, thanks !

JL A (281)
Saturday November 24, 2012, 3:45 pm
You are welcome ROger!

John B (185)
Saturday November 24, 2012, 4:04 pm
Thanks J.L. for the post and Kudos to the Harvard Student Body. I do hope the fossil fuel divestment campaign will be taken up by more universities and colleges. Read and noted.

Kit B (276)
Saturday November 24, 2012, 4:05 pm

Bless the beasts and the children. These students from Harvard and other schools are the tomorrow and the ways for all the tomorrows, they GET what many can not or chose to not, see.

JL A (281)
Saturday November 24, 2012, 4:15 pm
You are welcome John. They do indeed deserve kudos--Harvard is usually on the lists of colleges and universities with the most endowment funds. With South Africa, a lot of those deemed "more liberal" had pushed through divestment long before Harvard did so. When I posted the article with links to the tools for such campaigns awhile back, I hoped to see such results but am thrilled they are coming so soon! Definitely a trend we want to watch!

JL A (281)
Saturday November 24, 2012, 4:17 pm
Spoken like a prophet Kit! We can be thankful these students do indeed get it so well and are prepared to take action for our futures and a better tomorrow. You cannot currently send a star to Kit because you have done so within the last week.

Lin Penrose (92)
Saturday November 24, 2012, 8:22 pm
Noted with thanks J.L., and read with appreciation for Harvard, other students in other countries, the scientists & educators who brought the information to their student brains for logical assimilation, and the supporters who brought climate change to their attention.

Operative words: Climate Change, Adaptability. At best we humans, & the other trillions of life forms, can adapt to the inevitable. Humans can slow the adverse changes with divestment of fossil fuels, but climate change will not be stopped. Human participation has been going on for a very long time, though short geologically, and there are other natural, cycle factors involved. Laws of physics, chemistry, time (law of inertia in the human sense),.....So glad there are intelligent and caring generations of humans to find some balance (adaptation) with this natural challenge of climate change.

However, we and the other earth life forms, face chemical/pollution challenges that may put climate change into the back row, compared to the terrifying changes of chemistry/poisons we humans started in motion. Perhaps bringing Climate Change upfront and center, was just a clue to lead us to acknowledging several true catastrophes we humans created and must try to survive and adapt. Truly, we humans have asked too much of this planet and others, who just wanted to be left alone to share and be shared in the cycles of life and death, and life again.


JL A (281)
Saturday November 24, 2012, 8:44 pm
Thank you for putting it all into the fuller context for us Lin and reminding us of how everything is indeed interconnected. While addressing the fossil fuel component of climate change, we need to be wary of any chemical solutions that might prove even deadlier to all of us...sure wish I could send you a green star for this contribution with scientific accuracy, yet easily read by non-scientists too. Thanks again.

Gloria picchetti (304)
Sunday November 25, 2012, 4:55 am

natalie n (164)
Sunday November 25, 2012, 5:53 am
Finally some good news from student bodies. If they hold enough sensible arguments and put their legible cases forward, am sure they will go a long way to shaping the future of the country.

Kerrie G (116)
Sunday November 25, 2012, 6:07 am
Noted, thanks.

JL A (281)
Sunday November 25, 2012, 8:01 am
Gloria, it is indeed something to celebrate!
You are so right Natalie! You cannot currently send a star to natalie because you have done so within the last week.
You are welcome Kerrie.

TomCat S (128)
Sunday November 25, 2012, 9:12 am
I hope they remain so enlightened when many will be oil company lawyers a few years from now.

JL A (281)
Sunday November 25, 2012, 11:31 am
You cannot currently send a star to TomCat because you have done so within the last week.

Marilyn L (107)
Sunday November 25, 2012, 2:51 pm
Only 72%

JL A (281)
Sunday November 25, 2012, 2:53 pm
Yes Marilyn, but this IS Harvard, known for priority on admissions to those whose parents attended...I can believe around 28% have family members somehow affiliated with the oil and gas idustry.........

Aletta Kraan (146)
Sunday November 25, 2012, 3:08 pm
Noted, thanks !

JL A (281)
Sunday November 25, 2012, 3:14 pm
You are welcome Aletta!

greenplanet e (155)
Sunday November 25, 2012, 5:07 pm
Coal, oil and gas rake in too many profits and get too many subsidies.

It would be good if colleges and others could invest in solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable, low-carbon sources of energy, and also put solar panels on their campuses, if possible.

JL A (281)
Sunday November 25, 2012, 5:51 pm
You cannot currently send a star to greenplanet because you have done so within the last week.

Sergio Padilla (65)
Monday November 26, 2012, 7:47 am
Cool, hope they do someting about it
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