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Harvard environmental group promises ‘escalation’ if demands not met

‘That is all that can be said now’

An environmental group at Harvard University has promised an “escalation” to its tactics if its demands to the institution are not met, though a group member declined to elaborate on what that escalation would look like.

Last Thursday the Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard coalition staged a protest criticizing the university’s lack of effort towards divesting its funds from fossil fuel concerns. The protest took place inside University Hall, an administrative building. At the demonstration, activists handed out packets with statements from supportive Harvard faculty and poems about divestment.

The group also chanted multiple slogans such as “When our air is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back,” and “Harvard, step off it, put people over profit.” The Crimson reported that Joseph Winters, one of the protesters, stated that the university has a “deadline” of April 22 to take action. The paper did not elaborate on what would transpire if that deadline was not met.

Group member Jordan Barton elaborated, barely, on that assertion in an email interview with The College Fix.

“If our university does not divest by Earth Day, 2020, FFDH is committed to escalation of our strategy. This is all that can be said now – we have always been and will remain a grassroots movement,” he said.

“[W]e…demanded directly to our Dean of Students that we see a commitment soon. This is how it shall remain – if Harvard does not divest by Earth Day, we will realize its failure. It is failing now, but has not quite failed. We believe that the collective faith in our administration to make positive change after this point will be near impossible – from which, we will continue our action,” he added.

Barton did not respond to a followup query asking how exactly the group would “escalate” its strategy.

Campus spokesman Jason Newton did not directly respond to a query about the group’s threat to “escalate” its tactics, though he cited the university’s commitment to going “fossil-fuel-neutral” in the next six years and “fossil-fuel-free” by 2050.

Disclose, divest and reinvest

The Divest Harvard website explains the three demands the group has presented to the university: disclose its investments in fossil fuel concerns, divest from those concerns, and reinvest in sustainable industries. The group claims that Harvard invests its $41 billion endowment into corporations that are contributing to an ongoing climate crisis.

Visitors to the site are given the option to sign a letter sent to the the university’s president, Lawrence Bacow, urging him to pursue “real climate leadership in an unparalleled emergency situation.”

Group member Jordan Barton provided The Fix with a press release from the activist group, in which the organization “estimates that around $560 million [of the Harvard endowment] is invested in coal, oil, and natural gas, though it’s likely much greater.”

Barton said that the group “has gained unprecedented support from faculty, alumni, and student organizations on campus.”

“We here at FFDH are aware that not only is fossil fuel investment economically and socially preposterous – but we also recognize its intrinsic relationship to economic and social justice, and how those first affected by climate change will be those communities already drastically underserved and marginalized,” he said.

Calls for divestment at Harvard have spread beyond undergraduate university activists. Earlier this month both the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Medical School Faculty Council voted to support fossil fuel divestment at the university.

MORE: Harvard climate activists continue divestment campaign by occupying a building

MORE: Harvard fossil fuel divestment group stages mock oil spill on campus

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About the Author
Brianna Kraemer -- University of Colorado at Colorado Springs