Cambridge University Divests. Will Harvard Follow?

In wake of victory, campaigners turn their eyes across the Atlantic

With peer institutions recognizing the moral necessity of divesting from fossil fuels, Harvard remains stuck in the past.

a Thursday morning announcement, The University of Cambridge revealed its plans to divest from the fossil fuel industry. The decision, which came after five years of tireless activism, is a win for the climate justice movement — and puts significant pressure on Harvard to act.

“From Newton to Darwin to Rosalind Franklin, Cambridge University has always been at the forefront of human understanding of the world around us,” said climate activist Bill McKibben ’82. “With this announcement, the product of hard work over many years by hundreds of devoted campaigners, the University finally puts its money where its brains are, acknowledging the overwhelming threat the fossil fuel industry poses to the planet’s climate. Among many other important outcomes, one hopes that this bold action will shame the University founded by a Cambridge alumnus into belated action.”

Among many other important outcomes, one hopes that this bold action will shame the University founded by a Cambridge alumnus into belated action — Bill McKibben

In addition to rapid divestment of its direct and indirect fossil fuel holdings, the university also committed to reinvesting significant capital in renewable energy and rejecting funding from sources “incompatible with… sustainability ambitions.” The decision, which was made in explicit consultation with student and faculty voices, is an essential step for the largest educational endowment outside of the United States — and a demonstration of the importance of open and representative processes in university governance.

In response to the landmark announcement, Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard Organizer Suhaas Bhat ’23 stated: “As yet another major university has chosen to divest, it has become more and more clear that attempting to work within fossil fuel companies for marginal change is both ineffective and unethical. As the clock ticks forward, I only hope that Harvard will come to the same inescapable conclusion.”

As the clock ticks forward, I only hope that Harvard will come to the same inescapable conclusion — Suhaas Bhat

This decision, no small feat for a university that has historically held very close ties to the fossil fuel industry, comes as a recognition of the industry-wide failure to meaningfully commit to a decarbonized future. From Cambridge to Oxford, from Cornell to Georgetown, from Brown to the University of California, leading institutions around the world have made the decision to stop profiting off of the destruction of the planet, and instead to reinvest their money into industries that benefit humankind.

“This latest victory shows that the energy of student organising can shift even old and steadfast institutions like Cambridge University,” said the Cambridge Zero Carbon Campaign, the student group behind today’s victory. “We now turn our eyes and attention towards the Universities across the Atlantic — to Yale, Harvard, and all other institutions that continue to profit from investing in the destruction of our planet. If not now, when will they listen to the calls for students’ divestment and climate justice?”

We now turn our eyes and attention towards the Universities across the Atlantic — to Yale, Harvard, and all other institutions that continue to profit from investing in the destruction of our planet — Cambridge Zero Carbon Campaign

From the overwhelming votes of the College student body, Law School student body, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Harvard Medical School Faculty Council to, most recently, the election of 3 pro-divestment candidates to the Harvard University Board of Overseers, the Harvard community has made it clear: the university’s denial and delay will no longer be acceptable in an age of climate crisis.

As Harvard continues to fall behind peer institutions, the university is in urgent need of a different vision on climate. Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard remains committed to making the case for a just and stable future.

Follow Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

We call upon Harvard to #divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies and reinvest responsibly.

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