University needs to help ‘prevent the end of life as we know it’
A departing member of the Harvard Board of Overseers has called for the university to “stop funding climate change,” arguing that “the riskiest thing is to do nothing” and claiming that the university’s addressing climate change “could give leadership insights into other pressing issues like mass incarceration, toxins into our environment, and the exploitation of labor.”
“I am not going public with this call to action lightly or to be impolite,” Kathryn Taylor writes in The Harvard Crimson, stating that she has “tried everything else—diplomatically in the background with other Overseers and outspokenly but behind closed doors in plenary.”
“But this is too important for me to remain silent,” she adds.
Taylor writes that the university needs to “adopt ethical investment principles.”
“At a minimum, Harvard should direct the Harvard Management Company to divest from fossils fuels to prevent the end of life as we know it through cascading climate-driven disasters. This single act would not only take steps to address the existential crisis of our time, but it would allow the University to lead its peers, as few, if any, American universities thus far have taken this important moral stance.”
Many more experts than I have advocated for Harvard’s leadership to take the responsible action of divesting. For instance, more than 200 Harvard faculty members, including top scientists in the field, have called on the University to divest from fossil fuel corporations. The movement to divest is large and thoroughly mainstream, comprised of many other topschools, cities, including New York City, as well as the Church of England and some pension funds. Their commitments to divest over the next few years now cover over $6 trillion in assets. So, our request, with these august endorsements, is not radical—but recalcitrance is.
Especially because it is so influential, Harvard should give moral direction to how [Harvard Management Company] manages the endowment. These principles should be determined by the Harvard Corporation and the president, not HMC. Principles of responsibility, though otherwise common in the University’s governance, are long overdue in Harvard’s investments, which must also be consistent with the altruistic purpose of this oldest of American universities, one that commands the resources of a small country, is the most famous college in the world, and whose motto is Veritas.
“Recently, the insurance industry warned that if the world endures two degrees Celsius of temperature increase, systemic problems in insurance will emerge due to the frequency and intensity of extreme weather impacts,” Taylor writes.
“Imagine a business world that is not insurable. Clearly, the riskiest thing to do is nothing.”