Harvard and Yale Should Do More Than Just Divest

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Harvard and Yale Should Do More Than Just Divest

On November 23, 2019, we risked arrest alongside 120 of our peers, storming the field of the annual Harvard-Yale football game to call for an end to higher education’s profiteering from the climate crisis and demand climate leadership from two of the world’s richest and most prestigious universities. Two years later, Yale has taken critical steps toward socially responsible investment and, in a historic move this September, Harvard committed to divestment. These victories testify to the power of student and grassroots organizing. And already, they’re having ripple effects. Since Harvard’s announcement, more than a dozen major universities, foundations, and pension funds have followed suit, adding to a growing total of nearly $40 trillion of assets withheld from planetary arsonists.

But our work at Harvard and Yale, and across higher education, is far from over. As world leaders fail repeatedly to deliver necessary climate action, the importance of divestment and strategies that center direct action over conventional bureaucratic politics has never been greater. Yet our universities’ responsibility doesn’t end with their hard-won promises to make their endowments fossil-free. We need meaningful follow-through on their commitments, on a timeline that reflects the urgency climate science and justice demand. And we need our universities to sever their toxic ties to the fossil fuel industry in research and programming, as well as use their outsize endowments to accelerate a just fossil-free economy that invests in frontline communities for generations to come.

Let’s start with Yale, which since the game has moved substantially toward divestment: publishing a list of bad actors ineligible for institutional investment, committing to campus decarbonization, and expanding research into planetary solutions and communication regarding the climate crisis. As of April, however, 2.6 percent of Yale’s $42.3 billion endowment remained tied up in the fossil fuel industry. Yale’s primary criterion for not investing in certain fossil fuel companies remains limited to their greenhouse gas emissions, eliding serious considerations about the industry’s role in air and water pollution, climate misinformation, and violations of indigenous sovereignty. That perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise, since the chair of the University’s Committee on Fossil Fuel Investment Principles, Jonathan Macey, was a board alternate of oil and gas giant Hess.

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