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A Guide to Talking about Divestment at Harvard

One of the most important aspects of the Divestment movement is the opportunity it presents for us to engage our community in discussion about climate change. This document is meant to help you communicate the purpose of the divestment movement and to make a compelling case for Harvard to divest. Please continue to add to this document as you engage in conversation.

Four Key Reasons to Divest:
• • • • The urgency and severity of climate change The importance of Harvard acting in a manner that is morally consistent with its mission and the values it espouses The leadership that Harvard can provide in solving the most significant problem of our time The genuine threat that the “carbon bubble ” poses to portfolios

Common Arguments against Divestment1:
•Effectiveness Arguments •Economic Arguments •Tactical Arguments •Justice Arguments •Other Common Arguments

Effectiveness Arguments

 Divestment won’t really make a difference to the fossil fuel
Divestment is primarily a moral and social strategy. •As in the struggle for civil rights in the United States or the fight to end apartheid in South Africa, the more we can cast climate change as a deeply moral issue, the more we will push society towards action. If it is wrong to wreck the planet, then it is wrong to profit from the wreckage of the planet. By investing in fossil

fuel companies, Harvard is sponsoring climate change, and that is morally impermissible. o Divestment draws attention to the importance of addressing climate change NOW by… • Building power: Divestment campaigns have already spread to more than 300 campuses across the country. Pension funds, cities, state government, and individuals are also working to divest. Unity and Hampshire Colleges have already divested from fossil fuels, and the mayor of Seattle has announced that the city is divesting. Sparking discussion: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island mentioned the movement on the floor of Congress. Divestment has been heavily featured in the press with special mention of our efforts at Harvard. There have been articles in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Guardian, and Time Magazine, and news outlets such as NPR and Al Jazeera have also covered divestment. Even though divestment is primarily a moral and social strategy, there are important economic impacts for fossil fuel companies and clean energy development. •The top 500 or so college and university endowments hold nearly $400 billion, with Harvard holding $3.7 billion of that. Getting all of that money out of coal, oil, and gas is significant. Add in the big state pension funds, and church, synagogue, and mosque investments, and we’re well on our way to making the fossil fuel industry worry. •Divestment starts to raise uncertainty about the viability of the fossil fuel industry’s business model. In order to keep warming below 2°C, which most governments have agreed to, the fossil fuel industry will need to refrain from burning about 80% of their reserves of coal, oil, and gas. Even though these fossil fuels are still below ground, they are calculated as part of the companies’ assets and have a value of about $20 trillion. By divesting, we create the potential for these reserves to become “stranded assets.” •Divestment starts to build momentum for moving money into clean energy, community development, and other more sustainable investments. If this campaign succeeds in moving just 1% of the $400 billion that is in college endowments towards sustainable alternatives, that’s roughly $4 billion worth of new investments in things like solar bonds, revolving loan funds, and advancedenergy industries. •When other investors (individuals, pension funds, and so on) see the nation’s leading universities begin to move away from fossil fuels, they’ll also look into


 Who are we students to say what makes a good investment? The
people making these decisions know what they’re doing and we have no place in it.
• Student activism spearheading huge movements for change is nothing new. •In the 1980s, fueled by student activism, Harvard divested from the apartheid state of South Africa. Nelson Mandela credited American divestment as an important contributor to the end of apartheid.


Economic Arguments

 If we take the endowment out of fossil fuels, we'll lose money.
Divesting from fossil fuels is unlikely to result in large losses. •A recent report from the Aperio Group found that the theoretical risk to return when you take fossil fuels out of a portfolio is very small (0.0044%). In the long run, investments in fossil fuels are not good investments. •The value of investments in fossil fuels is based on the expected earnings of fossil fuel reserves. However, 80% of the fossil fuel companies’ reserves are unburnable. Thus, carbon is being mispriced, creating a carbon bubble. Additionally, as public opinion continues to shift and people demand government action to address global climate change, the value of carbon will decline further. Getting Harvard’s investments out of the fossil fuel industry and invested in alternative energy will be good for long-term returns. Divestment doesn’t mean we want to take money away from the endowment. We want to reinvest it, and there are other good investment options that don’t involve destroying our planet. •Investing in clean energy, efficiency, and sustainable technologies can be even more profitable than fossil fuels. It’s a growing market, with over $260 billion invested globally last year, and a safer investment.

 Doing anything to shrink the endowment will cut financial aid.
• • During the recession in fiscal year 2009, Brown University’s endowment shrank 29%, yet financial aid increased 10.9%. Harvard has a bigger endowment than any university in the world, and financial aid is the last item to be cut when the endowment shrinks.

Tactical Arguments

 Divestment is an extreme tactic.
Climate change is an extreme problem. •Scientists agree that levels of carbon in the atmosphere need to be kept below 350 ppm. In May of 2013, we are reached 400 ppm. Although that number dips periodically, on average, levels of carbon are only rising. •2012 was the hottest year on record and witnessed the worst drought since the 1950s. •Climate change has already wreaked havoc as we’ve seen more severe storms, horrible droughts, sea-level rise, and an increase in ocean acidity. •A recent report released by the World Bank says that if we don’t act within five years, we could be locked into 4°C global temperature rise by the end of the century, which civilization may be unable to adapt to. Our request is very reasonable. •We are calling on Harvard to freeze new investments in fossil fuel companies and to divest within the next five years any investments in the 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies that own the majority of the world's carbon reserves.

 Harvard fights climate change through research and education—
the University does not need to divest.
• The contributions that Harvard makes through its research are crucial to fighting climate change, but that doesn’t excuse the University for owning the companies that are continuing to discover, access, and sell fossil fuels. It is inconsistent for Harvard to fight climate change with one hand and sponsor it with the other. •Even as research about climate change has proliferated at universities across the country, fossil fuel emissions have risen. There is no reason to think that

business as usual will work in the future. We must get at the root of the problem —the business model of the fossil fuel companies—or else all of Harvard’s good research and education will be, quite literally, wiped out.

 Divestment is counterproductive because fossil fuel companies are
some of the largest investors in renewable energy research.
Fossil fuel corporations have had a dodgy history with renewable energy investments. •Several years ago, BP changed its named to Beyond Petroleum, but the company has recently ditched all its solar investments and changed the name back to British Petroleum. •It took 18 years of advocacy by the Rockefeller Foundation to get Shell to include a page about climate change on their website.   • Fossil fuel corporations have the capital to invest in transforming our energy system into one based on renewables, but they’re not going to do it without incredible pressure because they can make so much money by proceeding with business as usual. •Divestment is a great tactic for pushing the fossil fuel industry to change. If a company makes a serious commitment to transforming its practices, we can rescind our call for divestment. But attempt after failed attempt of discussing change with these companies has shown us that it’s going to take more than asking nicely.

 We should be fighting climate change in other ways (through
individual and political action, for example).
• Working to stop fossil fuel infrastructure projects (coal plants, fracking, pipelines, and so on) is important, but we can’t stop global warming one pipeline, one coal plant, or one fracked well at a time. We need a wholesale change to our energy system. To make our efforts to stop these projects count, we need to loosen the grip that coal, oil, and gas companies have on our government and financial markets. Harvard is a leader in campus sustainability with LEED-certified buildings and an ambitious campus carbon reduction goal, but what’s the sense in greening the campus if we’re not going to green the portfolio? •It’s time to go right at the heart of the problem—the fossil fuel companies themselves—and make sure these companies hear us in terms they might understand, like their share price, or else the devastating effects of climate change will wipe out all our good work.

 Okay… We need to put pressure on the fossil fuel industry, but
can’t we do it through shareholder resolutions? Divestment is extreme.
• Over the past decade, attempts to use shareholder action to change the behavior of the fossil fuel industry have yielded few results. The fossil fuel industry continues to insist on dumping massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere —and they face no consequence for doing so. Voting for climate-friendly resolutions is a good thing to do, but it’s not going to solve the problem. No group or shareholder is going to willingly vote to keep 80% of the fossil fuel industry’s current reserves underground. Divestment helps make the economic point that we should be moving our money into the solution as opposed to the problem. We could have talked about using shareholder resolutions 30 years ago, but now that we have a rapidly closing window for action, we need to act swiftly and boldly. Divestment can be an uncomfortable step to take, but it’s the right thing to do, and it will make a far greater impact than any shareholder resolution we could ever pass.

Justice Arguments

 Doing anything to raise the price of carbon will hurt low-income
• Doing nothing to combat climate change will really hurt low-income families. As climate change hinders our ability to produce food, prices climb, leaving millions more people hungry. Furthermore, many low-income countries that have contributed very little to climate change are being hit hardest by its consequences. •We need to develop renewable energy that is affordable and accessible to everyone, and the power exerted by the fossil fuel industry is hindering our ability to do this.

 The fossil fuel industry is a major employer. Are you trying to leave
people jobless?!?

• • •

Production of renewable energy tends to be more labor-intensive than that of fossil fuels, which relies on expensive production equipment. A transition toward renewables will create jobs. Automation and corporate consolidation are cutting jobs in the fossil fuel industry even as production increases. Fossil fuel companies could still make a profit and provide jobs as energy companies if they transitioned their massive wealth and expertise to renewables, but they will make such a move only if forced to by government regulation or changes in the market.

Other Common Arguments

 The endowment is not a tool for making political statements.
• Harvard is an institution of higher learning, and the consensus of climate scientists is that the world is rapidly warming as a result of our use of fossil fuels. Divestment, therefore, reflects ethical and scientific values, not political ideals. Climate change is bigger than politics. It is a global issue that transcends race, class, gender, age, and time. Harvard's investments are a reflection of its values, regardless of the political impacts of divestment. Currently, Harvard actively sponsors climate change by owning shares of fossil fuel companies; this damages the quality of life not only of Harvard students, but of humans around the globe and for thousands of years into the future. Addressing climate change is not a matter of politics; it is a matter of a responsibility. We cannot justify the harm we are causing to the entirety of the human race for shortsighted returns. Until Harvard divests, it will be an active sponsor of climate change. In the past, Harvard has not been afraid to take a stand on a politicized issue when the cause was worthy, as in the case of apartheid and tobacco divestment. Like past divestments, fossil fuel divestment is an issue of morality.

• •

 It’s individuals’ fault for using fossil fuels.
• • There are things that all of us can do to reduce our energy consumption, and we should do these things. But right now we have no readily available alternative to fossil fuels—and that is the fault of the fossil fuel industries. The fossil fuel industry is extremely wealthy and exerts unbelievable power in our government. Compared to renewable energy companies, fossil fuel industry

groups spend 20 times more on lobbying and get 6 times more in federal subsidies. By making huge contributions to candidates, the fossil fuel industry exerts a huge amount of influence on national policy. These companies work endlessly to block carbon controls in Congress and continue to raise skepticism about the validity of climate change, something about which scientists are in near unanimous agreement. o For example, when the House was voting on matters related to the Keystone Pipeline, the 234 representatives who voted in favor of the pipeline had received $42 million in campaign contributions from the fossilfuel industry. The 193 representatives who voted against the pipeline had received only $8 million. We are not advocating a world without energy. Fossil fuels have powered the modern world and led to incredible advances. We want a modern world, just not one that is unsustainable and abusive. Divestment is about making this a fair fight, so that alternatives to fossil fuels can flourish and consumers can choose renewable energy.


Many of these arguments are adapted from 350’s website: