“Given the need to decarbonize the economy and our responsibility as fiduciaries to make long-term investment decisions that support our teaching and research mission, we do not believe such investments are prudent,” Bacow, who has been president of the college since 2018, wrote in part on the university’s website. Bacow accurately described climate change as the “most consequential threat” to humanity.
“This is a massive victory for the divestment movement,” Ilana Cohen, a junior at the university, told The Washington Post. The 20-year-old, who is an active member of the Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard student-led group, told the outlet activists are working to hold Harvard’s “feet to the fire” to end remaining fossil fuel investments as soon as possible.
Progressive lawmakers in the state have also advocated to combat climate change via the school’s monetary investments. Recent legislation from Reps. Mike Connolly and Erika Uyterhoeven, for example, advocated on behalf of Harvard divesting from fossil fuels, hoping to use an article from the Massachusetts Constitution to use unique legislative power over the university.
“Harvard is so well-positioned to be a leader here,” Connolly said back in June, as reported by the Boston Globe. “By leveraging the vast wealth and resources of its endowment, setting the example that they’re going to turn away from fossil fuel investments.”
Setting an example is really a great way to put it; it’s more than simple symbolism, to be sure, but it’s also true that no one wants to be left “behind” in the public eye when it comes to environmental changes. Harvard has both the money and reputation to set a standard other institutions will want to follow.
Mind you, Harvard isn’t the first major higher learning institution to divest from fossil fuels. Among the other Ivies, for example, Yale has committed to a partial divestment, and both Brown and Cornell have committed to full divestments. The University of California said its investment portfolios are free of fossil fuels as of 2020. All of these are steps in the right direction that are more than symbolism. But we also have to remember that big corporations need the push and accountability to do the right thing for the planet—and not their bottom line.