Letter to President Faust: Break Up With Coal

To Be Delivered on February 17, 2017

Dear President Faust,

The last time we wrote to you we lived in a different political world. Now, President Donald Trump poses a threat to progress on the climate crisis. President Trump’s actions, including his appointment of Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, his statement to remove the U.S. from COP 21, his promise to repeal the Climate Action Plan, his questioning of the very existence of global warming and climate change, and his commitment to revive the fossil fuel industry, signal an antagonistic approach to climate science and a disregard for the severity of anthropogenic climate change.

We are committed to have Harvard divest its direct holding from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies. We call on Harvard to begin by divesting fully from all and any coal companies and promise to not invest in coal in the future. We request a response and divestment from coal to begin by March 10, 2017

In the past, the Obama Administration’s attitude toward climate science gave your argument against divestment more credibility. We are here to ask: what will Harvard do now that climate science research is being rejected and silenced? What will Harvard do as scientists scramble to back up climate data out of fear that President Trump might suppress or destroy it? What will Harvard do as President Trump plans to cut federal science budgets or staff? What will Harvard do now that climate science research no longer translates into executive orders, federal legislation, or international policies? What will Harvard do now that climate change denialism pervades the White House?

Promoting climate science research and focusing on reducing on-campus operating emissions is insufficient in the face of such menacing prospects. Harvard must prioritize more than money and convenience; it must act morally and with a conscience.

During an interview with Harvard Gazette, you stated that Harvard ought only to divest from  the most “heinous” causes to preserve the many privileges that society affords the University. And we agree. The causes that are most injurious to other human beings merit moral and economic sanction. President Bok outlined this logic in his announcement to divest from tobacco companies out of a desire “not to be associated as a shareholder with companies engaged in significant sales of products that create a substantial and unjustified risk of harm to other human beings.”

Coal certainly meets that criteria. Given that when burned coal creates more pollution than gasoline, oil, or natural gas, coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel. An abundance of research links coal pollutants with respiratory, cardiovascular, and neurological issues, including asthma, heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic lower respiratory disease, that impacts fetuses through the elderly.

To reinvest in the previously dying coal industry is not just ‘business as usual’ but a moral backslide to prioritize financial gain over human health and sustainability. Investing in coal companies signals Harvard’s endorsement of President Trump’s de-regulation practices.

It is time for Harvard to demonstrate real commitment to fixing this global problem.


Divest Harvard