Relating Divestment to Drew Faust’s Commencement Address

This is re-posted from the Divest Harvard website. Recent graduate Eva Roben writes about President Faust’s commencement address–which mentioned climate change frequently. Faust emphasized that Harvard is fighting climate change with research and education. Both I and the Divest Harvard team whole-heartedly agree with that. But we need to align our research and rhetoric with our investment principles. Read more below! I’ve bolded some of the key points. The last paragraph is very powerful as well.

Reflections On President Faust’s Commencement Day Address

By Eva Roben ’13

At Harvard’s Commencement this year, President Drew Faust devoted nearly a third of her speech to discussing the climate crisis, addressing an audience packed with alumni, graduates, friends, and families . She commented on the extreme weather that shut down Harvard twice this past academic year – Sandy and Nemo – and made the climate crisis more present than ever before and then enumerated the plethora of resources that Harvard has devoted to better understanding climate change and to researching and developing possible solutions. It was an impressive list.

As a graduating senior and an active member of Divest Harvard listening to the address at my own Commencement ceremony, I was thrilled that the issue that I believe will define my post-college life was given such a prominent place in President Faust’s speech. We at Divest Harvard share President Faust’s deep concern for the future of our world and applaud her decision to make climate change a major focus of this significant speech. We also share her vision that education and innovation are the first steps in addressing the climate crisis. A thorough understanding of the challenge must precede solutions, and solutions require thoughtful, intelligent, and informed people to devise them.

Harvard has contributed greatly in this way. As Faust told us, “our faculty are studying atmospheric composition and working to develop renewable energy sources; they are seeking to manage rising oceans and to reimagine cities for an era of increasingly threatening weather; they are helping to fashion environmental regulations and international climate agreements.”

We have reached a point, however, where it has become clear that research, education, and innovation are not enough. Our researchers have done amazing work and many solutions have been proposed, but we have not been able to take the action necessary to address the climate crisis. To date, Arctic sea ice has shrunk to less than half of what it used to be. This past year, climate change-related disasters displaced over 30 million people. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide just hit 400 ppm for the first time in at least 800,000 years, and the World Bank recently issued a report stating that, without serious policy changes, we will be on track to warm the planet by 4°C by the end of the century. The authors of the report grimly state “there is also no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible.”

The fossil fuel industry is primarily responsible for this terrifying inaction. As the situation grows increasingly dire, the crucial research produced by Harvard’s faculty has been obscured by the fossil fuel industry’s misinformation campaigns. In the political realm, the solutions proposed by Harvard’s innovators have been defeated by the Goliathan advocacy efforts of the fossil fuel industry. The industry devalues Harvard’s research by blocking its practical applications, yet the Harvard Corporation continues to invest our endowment in the fossil fuel industry. This inconsistency between Harvard’s important research and its backward investments challenges our university’s stated commitment to addressing the climate crisis.

At the Senior Chapel Service on the morning of Commencement, Rev. Jonathan L. Walton, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church, also addressed the Harvard College Class of 2013. He told us, “We need you, Class of 2013, to use your privilege and your power to help shift the cultural climate. We need you to be thermostats, not thermometers; we need you to dictate and determine culture, as opposed to just reading it and reflecting it.” This sentiment was relayed to us multiple times throughout our various graduation ceremonies. We should use our Harvard education to better the world – not simply to see problems but actually to enact the solutions to those problems.

As President Faust delivered her Commencement Day address, Rev. Walton’s words lingered in my mind. Yes, the research that Harvard has produced has been instrumental in advancing our understanding of the crisis that stands before us and that understanding is the first step in promoting action. But just as Rev. Walton implored the Class of 2013 to use its privilege and power to be actors rather than observers, so too must Harvard University use its immense privilege and power to be a force that changes the political climate.

As this young century commences, Harvard has a clear chance to be a thermostat, not just a thermometer. Harvard’s divestment from fossil fuel companies would stigmatize the industry and hinder its ability to block the application of the knowledge and solutions produced by years of climate and sustainable energy research at Harvard. It is time for Harvard to ensure the ability of its research to better society and to stand firmly in support of its students and their futures by divesting from the fossil fuel industry.

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