New Group Seeks to Address Harvard University’s Failure to Act on the Climate Crisis

Photo: Derek G. Xiao, The Harvard Crimson

In response to widespread frustration in the Harvard community about the University’s inaction to address climate change, a  coalition of alumni, students and faculty have launched a campaign called Harvard Forward to elect five new members of the Board of Overseers with the goal of changing the University’s policies on divesting from fossil fuels and on committing more resources to climate initiativesHarvard Forward is now collecting the nearly 3000 signatures needed from Harvard alums in order to get their candidates onto the ballot of the Board of Overseers election (click here if you are an alum and want to sign on).

Why This MattersIf a university as powerful and prestigious as Harvard were to divest and dedicate more resources to addressing climate change, it would send a strong signal to leaders in the U.S. and globally that climate change is a crisis and it would undoubtedly lead to other climate breakthroughs in research or policy.  What makes this campaign interesting and different from previous ones (like South African divestiture in the ’80s) is that rather than protest the decisions of university leaders, this campaign is seeking the power to make the decisions themselves.  The last time the university restructured its Board of Overseers was almost 150 years ago.  It seems like it’s time to modernize it and addressing climate change is the perfect impetus.

The Harvard Forward Campaign Manifesto

“Climate change is a threat to everybody, and Harvard is uniquely positioned to be a global leader: we have the resources necessary to take meaningful action and the sociopolitical weight to inspire others to follow. That’s why we must act immediately to completely divest our endowment from fossil fuels – to signal our full commitment to addressing this crisis with the seriousness it deserves. We must also bolster our responsible investment practices more broadly to avoid repeating our mistakes, and we must devote more resources to the students and faculty who are developing cross-disciplinary solutions to fight climate change.”

The Campaign Plan and the Board Candidates

The Harvard Forward campaign argues that six seats on the Board of Overseers should be reserved for young voices, which some of its peer universities like Princeton already do.  Harvard Forward also wants the University to hold open Board of Overseer town halls with students and to meet with student leaders each semester.  They also want to see more diverse voices on the Board of Overseers.  Their five candidates are all recent Harvard graduates and active in their work and communities on climate change and sustainable development — three are women and four are of diverse backgrounds.

To Go Deeper:  Read more about the campaign here.

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