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A Guide to Talking about Divestment at Harvard

  
One of the most important aspects of the Divestment movement is the opportunity it presents for us to engage our community in discussion about climate change. This document is meant to help you communicate the purpose of the divestment movement and to make a compelling case for Harvard to divest. Please continue to add to this document as you engage in conversation.

Four Key Reasons to Divest:
• • • • The urgency and severity of climate change The importance of Harvard acting in a manner that is morally consistent with its mission and the values it espouses The leadership that Harvard can provide in solving the most significant problem of our time The genuine threat that the “carbon bubble ” poses to portfolios

Common Arguments against Divestment1:
•Effectiveness Arguments •Economic Arguments •Tactical Arguments •Justice Arguments •Other Common Arguments

Effectiveness Arguments

 Divestment won’t really make a difference to the fossil fuel
companies.
Divestment is primarily a moral and social strategy. •As in the struggle for civil rights in the United States or the fight to end apartheid in South Africa, the more we can cast climate change as a deeply moral issue, the more we will push society towards action. If it is wrong to wreck the planet, then it is wrong to profit from the wreckage of the planet. By investing in fossil

community development. In order to keep warming below 2°C. Even though these fossil fuels are still below ground. synagogue. and we’re well on our way to making the fossil fuel industry worry. and individuals are also working to divest. By divesting. There have been articles in the New York Times. that’s roughly $4 billion worth of new investments in things like solar bonds. cities. Unity and Hampshire Colleges have already divested from fossil fuels.7 billion of that. and that is morally impermissible. pension funds. with Harvard holding $3. and gas. Even though divestment is primarily a moral and social strategy. there are important economic impacts for fossil fuel companies and clean energy development. •Divestment starts to raise uncertainty about the viability of the fossil fuel industry’s business model. Harvard is sponsoring climate change. •When other investors (individuals. Boston Globe. and advancedenergy industries.fuel companies. o Divestment draws attention to the importance of addressing climate change NOW by… • Building power: Divestment campaigns have already spread to more than 300 campuses across the country. and news outlets such as NPR and Al Jazeera have also covered divestment. Sparking discussion: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island mentioned the movement on the floor of Congress. oil. the fossil fuel industry will need to refrain from burning about 80% of their reserves of coal. revolving loan funds. oil. •The top 500 or so college and university endowments hold nearly $400 billion.” •Divestment starts to build momentum for moving money into clean energy. which most governments have agreed to. they’ll also look into . and church. Pension funds. Add in the big state pension funds. Getting all of that money out of coal. they are calculated as part of the companies’ assets and have a value of about $20 trillion. and other more sustainable investments. Guardian. and gas is significant. If this campaign succeeds in moving just 1% of the $400 billion that is in college endowments towards sustainable alternatives. we create the potential for these reserves to become “stranded assets. and the mayor of Seattle has announced that the city is divesting. state government. and Time Magazine. and so on) see the nation’s leading universities begin to move away from fossil fuels. and mosque investments. Divestment has been heavily featured in the press with special mention of our efforts at Harvard.

Harvard divested from the apartheid state of South Africa. and sustainable technologies can be even more profitable than fossil fuels. investments in fossil fuels are not good investments.divestment. However. we'll lose money. fueled by student activism. Additionally. Divestment doesn’t mean we want to take money away from the endowment. carbon is being mispriced. Divesting from fossil fuels is unlikely to result in large losses. with over $260 billion invested globally last year. In the long run. • Student activism spearheading huge movements for change is nothing new. Thus. Nelson Mandela credited American divestment as an important contributor to the end of apartheid. •In the 1980s. the value of carbon will decline further. •The value of investments in fossil fuels is based on the expected earnings of fossil fuel reserves. Getting Harvard’s investments out of the fossil fuel industry and invested in alternative energy will be good for long-term returns.0044%). We want to reinvest it. creating a carbon bubble. as public opinion continues to shift and people demand government action to address global climate change. 80% of the fossil fuel companies’ reserves are unburnable. and a safer investment. . and there are other good investment options that don’t involve destroying our planet. •A recent report from the Aperio Group found that the theoretical risk to return when you take fossil fuels out of a portfolio is very small (0. efficiency. It’s a growing market. ! Economic Arguments  If we take the endowment out of fossil fuels.  Who are we students to say what makes a good investment? The people making these decisions know what they’re doing and we have no place in it. •Investing in clean energy.

• • During the recession in fiscal year 2009. Our request is very reasonable. Tactical Arguments  Divestment is an extreme tactic.9%. •Scientists agree that levels of carbon in the atmosphere need to be kept below 350 ppm. fossil fuel emissions have risen. and sell fossil fuels. yet financial aid increased 10. on average. Doing anything to shrink the endowment will cut financial aid. levels of carbon are only rising. we could be locked into 4°C global temperature rise by the end of the century. •We are calling on Harvard to freeze new investments in fossil fuel companies and to divest within the next five years any investments in the 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies that own the majority of the world's carbon reserves. •A recent report released by the World Bank says that if we don’t act within five years. •2012 was the hottest year on record and witnessed the worst drought since the 1950s. and financial aid is the last item to be cut when the endowment shrinks. In May of 2013. It is inconsistent for Harvard to fight climate change with one hand and sponsor it with the other. Harvard has a bigger endowment than any university in the world. and an increase in ocean acidity. we are reached 400 ppm. which civilization may be unable to adapt to. There is no reason to think that . but that doesn’t excuse the University for owning the companies that are continuing to discover. Brown University’s endowment shrank 29%. Climate change is an extreme problem. horrible droughts. Although that number dips periodically. •Even as research about climate change has proliferated at universities across the country. access. • The contributions that Harvard makes through its research are crucial to fighting climate change. sea-level rise.  Harvard fights climate change through research and education— the University does not need to divest. •Climate change has already wreaked havoc as we’ve seen more severe storms.

but they’re not going to do it without incredible pressure because they can make so much money by proceeding with business as usual. but what’s the sense in greening the campus if we’re not going to green the portfolio? •It’s time to go right at the heart of the problem—the fossil fuel companies themselves—and make sure these companies hear us in terms they might understand. Harvard is a leader in campus sustainability with LEED-certified buildings and an ambitious campus carbon reduction goal. for example). pipelines. oil. or else the devastating effects of climate change will wipe out all our good work. we need to loosen the grip that coal. BP changed its named to Beyond Petroleum. • Working to stop fossil fuel infrastructure projects (coal plants. and gas companies have on our government and financial markets. •Divestment is a great tactic for pushing the fossil fuel industry to change.   • Fossil fuel corporations have the capital to invest in transforming our energy system into one based on renewables. If a company makes a serious commitment to transforming its practices.  We should be fighting climate change in other ways (through individual and political action.  Divestment is counterproductive because fossil fuel companies are some of the largest investors in renewable energy research. But attempt after failed attempt of discussing change with these companies has shown us that it’s going to take more than asking nicely. but we can’t stop global warming one pipeline.business as usual will work in the future. • • . •It took 18 years of advocacy by the Rockefeller Foundation to get Shell to include a page about climate change on their website. one coal plant. fracking. but the company has recently ditched all its solar investments and changed the name back to British Petroleum. •Several years ago. wiped out. we can rescind our call for divestment. and so on) is important. Fossil fuel corporations have had a dodgy history with renewable energy investments. We must get at the root of the problem —the business model of the fossil fuel companies—or else all of Harvard’s good research and education will be. or one fracked well at a time. We need a wholesale change to our energy system. quite literally. like their share price. To make our efforts to stop these projects count.

• • • Justice Arguments  Doing anything to raise the price of carbon will hurt low-income families. we need to act swiftly and boldly. • Over the past decade. No group or shareholder is going to willingly vote to keep 80% of the fossil fuel industry’s current reserves underground. The fossil fuel industry continues to insist on dumping massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere —and they face no consequence for doing so. Okay… We need to put pressure on the fossil fuel industry. • Doing nothing to combat climate change will really hurt low-income families. Divestment helps make the economic point that we should be moving our money into the solution as opposed to the problem. but can’t we do it through shareholder resolutions? Divestment is extreme. but it’s the right thing to do. Furthermore. many low-income countries that have contributed very little to climate change are being hit hardest by its consequences. •We need to develop renewable energy that is affordable and accessible to everyone. but it’s not going to solve the problem. but now that we have a rapidly closing window for action.  The fossil fuel industry is a major employer. and the power exerted by the fossil fuel industry is hindering our ability to do this. prices climb. and it will make a far greater impact than any shareholder resolution we could ever pass. Are you trying to leave people jobless?!? . Voting for climate-friendly resolutions is a good thing to do. We could have talked about using shareholder resolutions 30 years ago. As climate change hinders our ability to produce food. leaving millions more people hungry. attempts to use shareholder action to change the behavior of the fossil fuel industry have yielded few results. Divestment can be an uncomfortable step to take.

A transition toward renewables will create jobs. • • • •  It’s individuals’ fault for using fossil fuels. The fossil fuel industry is extremely wealthy and exerts unbelievable power in our government. Other Common Arguments  The endowment is not a tool for making political statements. fossil fuel divestment is an issue of morality. • Harvard is an institution of higher learning. as in the case of apartheid and tobacco divestment. gender. which relies on expensive production equipment. Harvard actively sponsors climate change by owning shares of fossil fuel companies. not political ideals. reflects ethical and scientific values. age. But right now we have no readily available alternative to fossil fuels—and that is the fault of the fossil fuel industries. Climate change is bigger than politics. and we should do these things. Compared to renewable energy companies. • • There are things that all of us can do to reduce our energy consumption. In the past. Addressing climate change is not a matter of politics. but they will make such a move only if forced to by government regulation or changes in the market. Like past divestments. Harvard has not been afraid to take a stand on a politicized issue when the cause was worthy.• • • Production of renewable energy tends to be more labor-intensive than that of fossil fuels. regardless of the political impacts of divestment. this damages the quality of life not only of Harvard students. We cannot justify the harm we are causing to the entirety of the human race for shortsighted returns. it will be an active sponsor of climate change. Currently. It is a global issue that transcends race. fossil fuel industry . class. Divestment. Harvard's investments are a reflection of its values. but of humans around the globe and for thousands of years into the future. and the consensus of climate scientists is that the world is rapidly warming as a result of our use of fossil fuels. Until Harvard divests. Fossil fuel companies could still make a profit and provide jobs as energy companies if they transitioned their massive wealth and expertise to renewables. therefore. and time. it is a matter of a responsibility. Automation and corporate consolidation are cutting jobs in the fossil fuel industry even as production increases.

Fossil fuels have powered the modern world and led to incredible advances. just not one that is unsustainable and abusive. o For example. By making huge contributions to candidates. The 193 representatives who voted against the pipeline had received only $8 million. These companies work endlessly to block carbon controls in Congress and continue to raise skepticism about the validity of climate change. . so that alternatives to fossil fuels can flourish and consumers can choose renewable energy. something about which scientists are in near unanimous agreement. the fossil fuel industry exerts a huge amount of influence on national policy. when the House was voting on matters related to the Keystone Pipeline. Divestment is about making this a fair fight. We are not advocating a world without energy.• • groups spend 20 times more on lobbying and get 6 times more in federal subsidies. We want a modern world. the 234 representatives who voted in favor of the pipeline had received $42 million in campaign contributions from the fossilfuel industry.

1 Many of these arguments are adapted from 350’s website: http://gofossilfree.org/faq/ .