Divest Harvard is one of over 400 campaigns at universities across the nation to call for divestment from fossil fuel companies, a movement sparked in particular by Bill McKibben's August 2012 Rolling Stone article "Climate Change's Terrifying New Math." McKibben's viral article explained that the world's fossil fuel reserves are several times what scientists estimate can be burned while staying within the internationally recognized limit of two degrees of warming. Nonetheless, the fossil fuel industry continues to spend hundreds of billions of dollars exploring for new reserves, and continues to block meaningful political action to stop climate change. As students, we cannot stand by idly as our future, and that of our children, is recklessly gambled away.
We believe that the power of the fossil fuel industry is the primary obstacle to stopping climate change. Our movement aims to highlight the destructive practices of this industry and to wake up our nation to the most pressing ethical issue of our time.
Our movement is modeled upon the highly successful apartheid divestment campaign in the 1970s and 1980s, which eventually succeeded in convincing the U.S. government to impose sanctions on the apartheid regime in South Africa. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has credited divestment with playing a "key role" in the defeat of apartheid, and has released a statement supporting our movement. We believe that divestment from fossil fuels can not only threaten the profitability of the fossil fuel industry; it can, more importantly, change public opinion about the ethical soundness of our current path, much as divestment from apartheid did.
The movement has received attention from major news outlets such as the New York Times, the Guardian, Bloomberg, and others. The closely related idea of the "carbon bubble" has gained ground in recent months, thanks in particular to the Carbon Tracker Initiative's reports that much of the carbon in the reserves is unburnable, raising serious questions about the long-term financial stability of these companies if the world is to have a stable climate.
Universities, as incubators of thought and of research (including much of the research on climate change), play a special role in this fight, and we believe they should not be betting against our future by supporting the fossil fuel industry. We hope that Harvard will take the opportunity to be a leader in fossil fuel divestment.