This week, the national fossil fuel divestment movement escalated, as student blockades popped up at Harvard and Washington University in St. Louis. By the end of the week, 8 students had been arrested across the two campuses, the first arrests since the fossil fuel divestment campaign launched nearly two years ago.
The skirmish at Harvard touched off Wednesday, where students organized as Divest Harvard have been pushing the university to get rid of the oil, gas, and coal holdings in its $33 billion endowment. Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, has dug in against Divest Harvard’s demands, even denying that the fossil fuel industry is blocking meaningful action to address climate change. Facing an administration that refuses to distance itself from the fossil fuel corporations driving climate crisis, Divest Harvard launched a blockade of President Faust’s office that lasted more than 24 hours. On Thursday morning, Harvard University police arrested undergraduate Brett Roche -- the first arrest in the national divestment movement. Roche’s arrest marks an increasingly hardline response from Harvard’s administrators, as the university demonstrates a willingness to use police force to defend investment in fossil fuel corporations.
Brett Roche may have been the first divestment activist arrested on campus this week, but he certainly wasn’t the last. This morning, Washington University in St. Louis joined Harvard in infamy: seven students were arrested as they attempted to deliver a letter to the university’s board of trustees. Just days before, WashU Students Against Peabody ended a historic 17-day sit-in which demanded that Greg Boyce, notorious CEO of Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, be removed from the university’s board. During negotiations, Washington University chancellor Mark Wrighton flatly refused to respond to students demands. When asked to exercise leadership, he replied “I can, but I won’t.” Faced with an administration content to cozy up to fossil fuel interests, more than 100 students staged a peaceful sat-in outside Washington University’s board meeting under the watchful eyes of police, some of whom carried shields and riot gear. When a delegation of students attempted to enter the building to deliver a letter to Washington University’s board, they were arrested. All seven were charged with trespassing on their own campus.
The implications of this week of action are both scary and heartening. Novelist Margaret Atwood spoke to the scary, criticizing the administration's response as she received an award at Harvard yesterday: “Any society where arrest is preferable to open dialogue is a scary place.” Indeed, university administrators at both Harvard and Washington University appear to be so committed to the fossil fuel industry that they'll arrest their own students for speaking out.
On the hopeful side, the student divestment movement is finding its power. After two years of power-building and by-the-book advocacy, campus climate activists are proving that they have the courage to stand up to their administrators and the fossil fuel industry. Earlier in the school year, students at Harvard, Washington University, and dozens of other campuses worked with Rainforest Action Network to disrupt campus recruitment sessions organized by Bank of America and Citi, two of the largest financiers of the U.S. coal industry. Those actions, and the arrests this week, point to a rising tide of resistance that won’t be cowed by police response. A longer, deeper struggle is opening on campuses across the country, and administrators at the more than 300 universities with active divestment campaigns need to know that their chickens are coming home to roost. It's time to divest or expect resistance.
To support the Washington University in St. Louis students arrested this morning, call Chancellor Mark Wrighton at (314) 935-5100.
Tell him universities are for students, not for coal CEOs. Washington University needs to drop Peabody Energy so the school can get back to educating students, not arresting them.
Co-authored by Sima Atri, Benjamin Franta, Sidni Frederick, Ted Hamilton, Jacob Lipton, Chloe Maxmin, Brett Roche, Kelsey Skaggs, Henney Sullivan, Tyler VanValkenburg, Jacob Lipton, Zoë Onion, Olivia Kivel, and Canyon Woodward on behalf of Divest Harvard. This op-ed originally appeared on Stacy Clark's blog on Huffington Post.
This morning we began blocking the main entrance to Massachusetts Hall, which houses the office of Harvard University President Drew Faust and other top administrators. We are here to demand an open and transparent dialogue with the Harvard Corporation—Harvard's main governing body—on fossil fuel divestment. To date, President Faust and Harvard University have rejected the case for divestment and refused to engage in public dialogue about divestment and climate change. Alongside the 72% of Harvard undergraduates and 67% of Harvard Law students, as well as the students, faculty, and alumni of Divest Harvard, we refuse to accept our university's unwillingness to hold a public meeting on this critical issue.
We are here today because we believe in a better Harvard. We are here because it is our duty to act. We are here today because it is our moral responsibility as students to ensure that Harvard does not contribute to and profit from the problem but instead aligns its institutional actions and policies with the shared interests of society.
We take this action with the conviction that Harvard can, must, and will be a leader in responding to the climate crisis. We owe it to the world's less fortunate and future generations to lead the way to a livable planet.
Human-made climate change is already severely disrupting weather patterns and causing misery to those most vulnerable to the effects of drought, flooding, and famine. Despite the universal acknowledgment by scientists and world governments that drastic action is needed to address this problem, we continue to extract and burn carbon energy sources at an accelerating rate.
Unless we act swiftly to restructure our economy and to end our consumption of fossil fuels, the planet faces catastrophic disturbances in the very near future. The latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warns that we have less than 15 years to overhaul our energy economy, is the latest recognition that the time for bold and courageous action is upon us.
Harvard enjoys a privileged position. It is a global leader in research, thought, and policy, and its alumni, faculty, and administrators enjoy tremendous influence over our economy and political culture. Harvard has the moral authority to break the stranglehold of passivity when our governments are unable or unwilling to address climate change's impending menace. And even if Harvard were not a prominent institution, the moral imperative still exists to stop profiting from damage done to others. The fact that Harvard chooses to calculate profit from corporate activities that push damages onto others—including ourselves and our children—is intolerable, ultimately unsustainable, and must stop.
Harvard's divestment from the fossil fuel industry will accomplish two important goals. First, it will allow Harvard to retain the moral integrity of an institution purporting to care about a livable future. Today the Harvard community profits from fossil fuel investments because the true costs of oil, coal, and gas are borne by other communities. Communities close to extraction sites are being robbed of their health and communities on the frontlines of climate disasters are being robbed of their lives and cultures. Younger generations, including Harvard's own students, are being robbed of a chance at a livable future. It is unconscionable and illogical for us to continue supporting an industry that violates basic human values and the fundamental purpose of our own institution.
Second, divestment will send a strong message that our society can no longer tolerate business as usual with the fossil fuel industry. The corrupt political practices and shameful climate denial peddled by gas, oil, and coal companies have stood in the way of proactive energy policies for far too long. Harvard's wealth and influence bring with them a special responsibility to act, and this is an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.
As the university demonstrated when it divested from tobacco and partially divested from Apartheid, Harvard's endowment can be put into alignment with shared values. We are not asking our university to inject politics into its finances: we are asking it to stop sponsoring and profiting from climate change. By investing in fossil fuel companies, Harvard itself is responsible for their behavior. President Faust's recent announcement that Harvard will sign onto the non-binding Principles for Responsible Investment and the Carbon Disclosure Project implicitly recognizes that the university cannot ignore its social responsibility when it comes to its investments and climate change.
As over one hundred Harvard faculty argued in their letter to President Faust earlier this month, it is far too late for business as usual and statements to continue that do not commit the university to action. The governing Corporation's refusal to hold an open meeting on the issue of divestment—as well as the President's recent denial that fossil fuel companies prevent political action on global warming and a Corporation member's suggestion that Harvard students thank BP for its energy practices—betray a disconcerting lack of understanding and urgency with respect to the impending risk of climate disaster.
We stand in solidarity with students and activists around the world who are raising their voices to demand that our institutions and leaders reject the carbon economy and begin aggressive action toward a greener future. We welcome members of the Harvard community and the public to our peaceful gathering in front of Massachusetts Hall. And we invite President Faust and the Harvard Corporation to join us in an open and transparent meeting to discuss the divestment of Harvard's endowment from the fossil fuel industry.
The world, and Harvard as part of it, cannot wait any longer.
Dear friends, RAN has a vision for 2013, but it only works if you see it as your vision too. It’s big, it’s bold and it will take all of us. I will tell you up front that all I am asking of you in this letter is for you to let me know you’re with us. We on the RAN staff and Board believe that our core purpose is to protect endangered forests, move the country off of fossil fuels and defend human rights. And that the best possible way to do that is with effective, innovative and hard-hitting environmental corporate campaigning powered by people like you and me. If that resonates for you then you should keep reading. You’ve tasked us to think through the strategies most effective for protecting forests, the climate and human rights. You’ve tasked us with doing the research, the writing, the negotiating with some of the world’s largest corporations and worst polluters. But I need to also task you with something too. I need you to redouble your commitment to be part of this network that is needed to protect forests and the climate. You are the muscle behind our strategies. I don’t say this to make you feel good. I say it because it’s the truth. And if you believe me, it means doing more work than you ever thought you would do for our environment. In 2013, you and I, the network powerful enough to inspire long-term change from corporate giants like Burger King, Home Depot, Citibank and Disney, have a big role to play. I believe that the most important places for us to put our collective energy in 2013 are:
• Defend ground zero for rainforest protection: IndonesiaWhy the forests of Indonesia? Because that is where deforestation is happening at the most alarming rate. If Indonesia’s rainforests go, we will have to find a way to explain to our grandchildren why orangutans and Sumatran tigers no longer exist. And if we lose these forests, our climate emissions will increase exponentially. This year, you will be asked to get even more involved in stopping the two main culprits of this deforestation: paper companies, like Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), and palm oil suppliers, like Cargill. In the first few months of the year, I hope you will join us so that we can go after APP like never before and launch a new campaign that gets unsustainable palm oil off our grocery store shelves.
• Double down on climate activism: Cut funding for fossil fuelsThe clean energy revolution that you and I want to see cannot happen while the biggest banks in the country are funding fossil fuels. Together, we will follow the money. If you’re game, this can be the year we use every tool in our toolbox to push Bank of America, the leading funder of the coal industry, to dump fossil fuels for clean energy. And the year we take big action to push climate onto the forefront of the President’s agenda.
• Build our collective powerLast year, we spent a lot of time talking about you. Thinking about how to bring you ever closer, how to expand our numbers, and how we leverage our collective strength. But our next step is to listen. We plan to do a lot of listening to you in 2013, to hear what your visions are for our network, and to dream and scheme ways to build our power together. We need your help to get louder, to be bolder and to have the most powerful impact. Will you join us to expose APP for the first time ever in North America with your social media networks, to build awareness about the problems with palm oil community by community, to leverage your dollars to push Bank of America out of the coal industry? Will you ask your friends to join? What more could you do, would you do in your community, online, in the streets as part of RAN?I know that there are a lot of other pressing issues out there. But I believe in focus and in high leverage fights that can catalyze big changes. So, it’s going to be a big year. And it needs to be. We are in the midst of what history will undoubtedly call the next industrial revolution. And the evidence that it’s happening is all around us, if we care to look. In 2012, people like you helped shutter 125 coal plants and inspired Disney to transform everything about the way it uses paper. So, not to sound cheesy, but our big vision for 2013 is you. This is a community that can see windmills replacing coal fields. That believes a tree is worth more standing than cut down for paper. That knows people power can trump corporate power. Protecting forests, our climate and human rights really doesn’t happen without you...nothing happens without you. Together, I know we can take on the biggest, most well-funded polluters and exploiters in the world—and win. I know because I’ve seen it, from our Burger King victory in 1987 to our Disney win last year. I cannot thank you enough for the emails you’ve sent, the calls you’ve made, the funds you’ve given, the rallies and protests you’ve attended. It's hard to grasp the enormity of our huge accomplishments as a network. I hope you’re as ready as I am for the possibilities of 2013. For the future, for our forests, Becky Tarbotton
Coalition Calls for End to $122 billion in Handouts to Fossil Fuels (Washington, DC – October 5, 2011) Today leaders of 52 national and state organizations sent a letter to the members of the Super Congress (formally known as the Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction) demanding that the elimination of government handouts to the oil, coal and gas industries be a central part of the deficit reduction plan they are to present to the full Congress by November 23rd. Eliminating subsidies to the fossil fuels industry could reduce the national debt by $122 billion over ten years while bettering the environment and public health for America’s families these leaders asserted. “Americans of all political orientations strongly favor ending these subsidies to the oil, gas and coal industries” they wrote, adding that “[M]ost Americans feel that Members of Congress are more responsive to their campaign donors than their constituents. Working to remove subsidies from the fossil fuel industry is one of the clearest ways you can help restore your constituents’ faith in the ability of Congress to represent them.” Fossil fuel corporations do not need federal handouts in order to produce energy. Over the last decade, the top five oil and gas companies alone reported over $1 trillion in profits, and another $71 billion in profits in just the first two quarters of 2011. Coal companies, which have received government aid for nearly a century, have seen their profits skyrocket in 2011. Peabody Energy, the largest private sector coal company, earned has already posted $461.3 million in profits in 2011. Consol Energy first quarter profits nearly doubled from 2010 to reach $192 million.Read the full post over at Oil Change International's site.