They don’t wear capes, but they wield massive superpowers. Together, the 13 members of the Harvard Corporation control Harvard’s $42 billion and shape the university’s impact on its students and on the world. And yet, few even know who they are.
On Sunday, Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard (FFDH) released the first stage of a semester-long campaign to hold the Corporation accountable for its fossil fuel investments and lack of transparency. The parody website, found at HarvardCorpLovesFossilFuels.com, portrays Harvard Corporation members as superheroes who face a choice — answering the planet’s call, or serving as Big Oil’s sidekicks.
With Harvard Corporation members donning capes and bright spandex, the new website informs readers about the backgrounds of the Corporation members — acknowledging some members’ various accomplishments, while also revealing other members’ inconsistent commitments to justice and noteworthy conflicts of interest. The website also provides information on the specific members’ climate records, while providing a way for viewers to contact the Corporation and register their opinion.
“As duty calls, the Harvard Corporation is missing in action,” the home page reads. “Will they let the bad guys win? Or will they step up and be the heroes the planet needs?”
To accompany the launch, Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard also announced a teach-in and discussion. On Thursday, February 18, Harvard Forward Board of Overseers candidate Natalie Unterstell ’16 will join FFDH organizers to discuss the nature of Harvard’s governance and pathways for change. Registration for this event can be found here.
This announcement takes place just days after Harvard scientists published staggering evidence on the urgency of the climate crisis. Air pollution from burning fossil fuels killed over 8 million people in 2018 — one in five deaths that year. And yet, even as Harvard research proves the dangers of fossil fuel dependence, the Harvard Corporation refuses to sever its financial ties to the industry responsible.
The website hones in on this contradiction, noting that although many board members are advocates of science, health, and social justice, they continue to endorse fossil fuel giants’ vision for the future. Some members, for example, maintain financial ties with the industry — even as it attacks Harvard’s own scholars. Others tout their philanthropic support of social justice initiatives while backing the companies that thrive off injustice and inequity. On the whole the website notes, the Corporation falls far short of “recognizing the grave threats posed by the fossil fuel industry.”
For this inaction, Harvard stands out among peer institutions who have pledged to divest from fossil fuels — including Oxford, Cambridge, Cornell, Columbia, Brown, and the University of California system. “The Harvard Corporation is steeped in secrecy,” explained FFDH organizer Joseph Winters ’21. “It’s far past time for its 13 members to realize that they cannot claim to represent the will of the Harvard community so long as they continue to choose to invest in the fossil fuel industry.”
Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard will continue to push the Harvard Corporation to listen to the Harvard community, including the majority of college students, law students, members of the Faculty of Arts and Science, Harvard Medical School faculty council members, and alumni who call on the university to divest. Harvard, the group’s website maintains, still has the chance to be a climate superhero — but only if it answers the call by disclosing, divesting, and reinvesting its fossil fuel holdings.