HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL FACULTY CALL FOR DIVESTMENT, DECLARATION OF CLIMATE EMERGENCY

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Harvard Medical School’s main quadrangle (SBAmin/Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

In One of Largest Faculty Movements in University History, Professors are Calling for Change

CAMBRIDGE, MA — A week after Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted to divest from fossil fuels, the Faculty Council of Harvard Medical School has issued a call of their own. Their overwhelming passage of a resolution calling for divestment and declaration of a climate emergency, which is yet another accomplishment of one of the largest faculty activism movements in university history, sends a clear message to university administration that it’s time for real climate action.

“Health professionals have a unique responsibility to defend scientific integrity as one means of protecting our patients from harm,” said James Recht, MD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry. “Consistent with this, we condemn the fossil fuel industry’s use of pseudoscience to sow doubt about the health harms of carbon pollution, and confusion about the urgent need to eliminate fossil fuels as rapidly as possible.”

The 23–5 vote officially puts the Medical School Faculty Council, a representative body of faculty from across the school’s various disciplines and institutions, on the record as “call[ing] on the Harvard Corporation to divest Harvard’s endowment from the fossil fuel industry, by eliminating all direct investments and commingled assets in companies that generate the majority of their profits from the exploration for, production of, transportation of, or sale of fossil fuels.” The Council also voted to call on HMS to sign on to the US Call to Action on Climate, Health, and Equity, which has been endorsed by over 130 medical and public health groups, and voted unanimously to call on the school to declare climate change a health emergency requiring urgent action.

“I am grateful to my fellow Faculty Council members for their careful consideration, thoughtful input, and overwhelming support for these resolutions,” said Margaret Bourdeaux, MD, MPH, Instructor of Medicine and Research Director of the Security & Global Health Project at the Belfer Center. “The adoption of these resolutions will put Harvard Medical School in the best possible position to tackle the existential crisis of climate change. We look forward to continuing to work with our leadership to address this grave threat to the health of people we strive to serve.”

The vote, like the FAS’ vote, is non-binding. Nevertheless, coming the day that student activists occupied a main administrative building, a few days after a Harvard faculty divestment petition topped 1,000 signatures (with 500 added in the past week and signatories from all 12 of Harvard’s schools), a week after the FAS vote passed with 90% in favor, shortly after pro-divest alumni successfully petitioned into the election for University Board of Overseers, and following the Harvard-Yale protest that drew headlines around the world, the Medical School faculty vote puts even more pressure on central administration to listen.

“Our vote today underscores the recognition that the climate crisis is a health emergency and that divestment from fossil fuels, while only one of many actions needed to address the crisis, is a critical step,” said Caren Solomon, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Medicine. “We sincerely hope that our vote, together with last week’s vote by FAS, the rapidly multiplying signatures on the faculty divestment petition, and the efforts of numerous committed students and alumni, will move the Harvard Corporation to recognize that leadership in addressing the climate crisis includes stopping investment in companies that are largely responsible.”

For the faculty members who have spent years fighting for divestment, the vote represents a major win not only for their own efforts, but also for the futures of the communities they serve. “As health professionals, we have taken an oath to protect our patients,” said Gaurab Basu, MD, Instructor of Medicine, “and to so we must collectively advocate for the urgent end of use of fossil fuels.”

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