In response to the Harvard Corporation’s announcement of a net-zero pledge by 2050, Harvard Medical School Faculty for Divestment sent the following letter to President Bacow, with more than 170 signatories:
Dear President Bacow,
As Harvard Medical School physicians and scientists currently responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, we are profoundly aware of the devastating consequences when the response to a health crisis is delayed and insufficient. We are among the large number of faculty (as well as students and alumni) who have been calling for fossil fuel divestment as a critical component of a comprehensive response to the climate crisis. We are extremely concerned that the plan described in your letter detailing Harvard’s response (4/21) – i.e. to continue investing the endowment in the fossil fuel industry with a plan for a carbon neutral portfolio by 2050– is both inadequate and far too delayed to mitigate the catastrophic environmental and health consequences of climate change.
Millions of lives are at stake with rises in temperature above 1.5 degrees Celsius, as will occur with continued burning of fossil fuels. We are already experiencing increasing heat-related illness, trauma and displacement from intense storms and wildfires, increases in infectious diseases, lung disease, and cardiovascular disease and these will only worsen without prompt forceful action. In response to this unprecedented crisis, we must act swiftly. We do not have the luxury of a 30 year time frame.
A far more aggressive approach to decarbonization than currently planned is critical to protect health and health care delivery. It is also critical to Harvard’s stated aspiration to be a leader in addressing climate change; that aspiration is incompatible with continued investment in fossil fuel industries.
The arguments against divestment outlined in Harvard’s response are disappointing. Despite repeated queries, no evidence has been shared to date to support the contention that Harvard’s engagement with the fossil fuel industry has fostered substantive changes in these companies’ behaviors or intent to continue to profit from exploration, extraction, transport, and sales of fossil fuels. We also question the claim that divestment will unjustly vilify the individuals working within fossil fuel companies and prevent forward-thinking collaboration. In this regard, it is worth considering the University’s previous divestment from South Africa to protest the apartheid policy. In no way was that divestment intended to vilify any particular South African, nor did it prevent scientific, political, or economic collaboration with the Harvard community. Instead, it accomplished exactly what divestment is intended to accomplish – clear and bold communication that policy must change.
The devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic underscore the need for policy based on science and prompt action in order to protect lives. We urge the administration to focus on the irrefutable facts that compel us to act with urgency to address the climate crisis with meaningful action that includes divestment from fossil fuels.
Margaret Bourdeaux, MD, Instructor in Medicine
Christiane Ferran, MD, PhD, Lewis Thomas Professor of Surgery
Gene Richardson, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine
Caren Solomon, MD MPH, Associate Professor of Medicine
David Weinstock, MD, Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics
James Recht, MD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry