Divest Harvard Won’t Give Up Without a Fight

By Joseph Lanzillo, Harvard University

As the necessity of curbing global warming becomes more clear, people across the country are realizing that the fossil fuel industry must be challenged.  Individuals are joining the campaign to divest from fossil fuel companies, a movement driven by students who are demanding their schools divest from companies that threaten our future. Even though the movement is young, it is clear the divestment campaign is engaging people in the fight against global warming like never before. It’s no different at Harvard.

In late August, students from Harvard’s chapter of Students for a Just and Stable Future launched Divest Harvard. We are working with and Boston-based Better Future Project as part of a larger movement of over 150 college campuses. We are calling on Harvard to divest its endowment from the top 200 publicly-traded companies and reinvest in socially responsible funds. We have gathered over 1,000 petition signatures from Harvard community members, held events about divestment, and been featured in national media such as Public Radio InternationalThe Nation, and The Boston Globe.

In November, Divest Harvard had a referendum question on our student government election ballot. With 55% of the student body voting, 72% of students supported the divestment campaign. This is significant because divestment received even more support than past divestment campaigns at Harvard. In 1986, the ballot featured a question about divesting from South Africa to end the apartheid, and 65% of students supported complete divestment. In 1990–with 38% of the student body voting—just 52% supported complete divestment. This year’s referendum question shows tremendous support for the campaign that has ignited a passionate movement at Harvard and across the country.

Divest Harvard members have repeatedly tried to start a dialogue with the Harvard administration about divestment. So far, we have been denied a meeting with Harvard President Drew Faust, but our team is hopeful that she will warm up to us and join in on the national divestment conversation. Earlier this year, she was quoted as saying that the University would consider divestment only the “the most extreme of circumstances.” However, Harvard has previously divested from tobacco companies, companies that backed genocide in Darfur, and companies that supported apartheid in South Africa, so is hope that Harvard will consider divesting from fossil fuels.  As Jamie Henn, co-founder of, just wrote in a piece for Boston’s NPR, “If it was right to divest from the tobacco industry, then it’s only consistent to divest from the fossil fuel industry as well.”

The movement has been growing at astonishing rates–not just at Harvard, but across the nation. The overwhelming support in the referendum shows just how much Harvard students care about the environment – and that they are committed enough to make a difference. People previously unsure of how to most effectively combat global warming now have a clear goal to fight for; the divestment movement has unified many in its cause. We have watched campaigns arise at other schools, and watched existing campaigns boom. We can only hope for this trend to continue as we call on our university to invest in our future .

Brown Divest Coal Campaign Takes Off!

by Emily Kirkland, Brown University

Last night, the Brown Divest Coal Campaign had our first planning retreat of the semester. It’s been a crazy, busy, and exhilirating two months. Our campaign, which didn’t even exist in August, has already accomplished an extraordinary amount. We’ve collected petitions from 1500 people (a quarter of Brown’s student body!) We’ve designed a kick-ass logo and have started screenprinting banners, posters and shirts.  We’ve hosted a teach-in with three Brown professors and an activist from West Virginia — a huge hit! And we’ve all been planning for November 26th, when we’ll be welcoming Bill McKibben to campus as part of the roadshow.

Our administration has been responsive, too. We met with Brown’s president, Christina Paxson, a few weeks ago. We’ve also presented to an official committee charged with overseeing the endowment, and we’re hoping to hear a response from them within the next few weeks.

Every week is a blur of meetings, conversations with adminstrators, petition sessions, dorm storms, calls to reporters, emails, emails and more emails. It’s exciting, but it can also be overwheming. Last night, we sat down for the first time as a group to eat some spaghetti and apple cobbler and reflect on our progress so far.

Over and over, the same message emerged: this campaign has been an incredible opportunity to confront the power of the fossil fuel industry within our own community. I’ve a senior, and I’ve spent much of my time at Brown worrying and thinking about global warming and related issues. But this is the first time I’ve really felt able to do something about it on my own campus.

And as exhausting as it can be, that’s also incredibly exciting.

The Movement Begins At Hampshire

by Alex Leff

“Together we’ll mount an unprecedented campaign to cut off the industry’s financial and political support by divesting our schools, churches and government from fossil fuels.” – Do The Math tour

As the seas rise, so do Fossil Fuel industry profits. It’s no coincidence that in a year when the Arctic Ice Cap melted to half it’s 1970 level, ExxonMobil made more money than any other corporation in history. The Fossil Fuel Industry spent $167 million lobbying the federal government to weaken industry regulations and block any climate legislation that would threaten their bottom line. Since May, the Fossil Fuel Industry has received almost $5 billion from the United States government in from tax breaks and subsidies[1]. In order to solve the climate crisis, we need to break the stranglehold fossil fuel corporations have over our democracy and our economy. Here’s where we come in:

American colleges and universities all together have over $400 billion in endowment assets. Schools invest their endowments on all sorts of things, usually without any consideration of what this money funds. If we are to have any hope of seriously confronting the Climate Crisis, we must urge our schools to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

The Hampshire College community, and the rest of the nation, perhaps, has a reason to celebrate. Hampshire College is the first school in the nation to pass a responsible investment policy that includes full divestment from fossil fuels. President Jonathan Lash explains that now beyond divestment, “The college actively seeks to invest in companies whose policies and products align with our social and environmental values.” The fossil fuel companies wrecking our climate clearly don’t make the cut. More information on Hampshire’s Investment policy is available on

Divestment was a key component to victory over South African Apartheid. Hampshire led the way then too, and in 1977 was the first to divest from all corporations supporting Apartheid. Over a hundred more schools, including major institutions like Columbia, Stanford, and the University of California followed suit, along with cities and state pension funds. Nelson Mandela applauded these divestments as significant contributions to the fight. Now, a new divestment movement is starting across the country. This November, environmental activist and author Bill McKibben will lead the “Do The Math” tour across America, spreading the fossil fuel divestment movement.

The Hampshire community has a significant role to play, now beyond its own personal divestment. We must continue our commitment to cutting down on fossil fuels with every aspect of our lives: as a school and as individuals. We have a duty to help student divestment coalitions at other schools whose administrations are less willing to make the responsible decision. Our friends at the Amherst, UMass, Holyoke, and Smith are now working towards divestment and cannot do it alone. However, the fight is not about battling school governments. The real is fight is working as students, as communities, and as a nation, to withdraw our money from the fossil fuel industry.

To join the fight visit and like “FiveCollegesAgainstFossilFuels” on Facebook.


Making History With Divestment

In the 1980s, apartheid was an injustice too terrible to be ignored. Today, global warming is the tremendous injustice that demands our generation to unite and take action. Hampshire College made history last Monday when it was revealed to students that its endowment is currently free of fossil fuels after an earlier responsible investment shift, just as it made history thirty- five years ago as the first of many schools to divest from companies that supported apartheid in South Africa. Now the rest of us must join together on our campuses and across the country to fight for divestment from fossil fuels so we can take down the climate crisis as students before us took down apartheid.

Students are already calling for divestment from coal, oil, and natural gas companies at roughly thirty schools, from Lewis & Clark to Cornell. Unfortunately, the administration at many of these schools have not yet followed Hampshire’s example of bold ethical leadership. At Harvard University, for instance, President Faust declared that she would not use the endowment to fight climate change. At Boston University, President Brown all but refused to even meet with students to discuss the proposal.

We see that fossil fuel divestment will not be an easy battle, but it will be worth the effort. Higher education endowments represent $400 billion across the United States, a substantial sum of money to withhold from oil, gas, and coal companies. Our institutions can send a powerful message to the financial community and the world, signaling to investors that fossil fuels are a dying industry they should divest from quickly because our generation will not stand for a world powered by deadly energy.

Furthermore, divestment campaigns are a labor of love for our communities. Fossil fuel companies are inherently risky investments that higher education institutions would be wise to avoid. As Bill McKibben made clear this summer in his article in Rolling Stone, we can only burn 565 gigatons more carbon before going over the UN-sanctioned 2 degree upper limit for warming, but the share prices of fossil fuel companies reflect the 2795 gigatons stored in their reserves underground. That carbon cannot be burnt– the facade will fall away eventually, society will realize that those gigatons must remain underground, and fossil fuel stocks will tank. Universities lost up to 30% of their endowments when the housing bubble burst in 2008 and stocks crashed, resulting in budget constraints, job slashing, and painful cuts to financial aid. Our schools cannot afford to suffer similar losses a second time when the carbon bubble bursts.

Divestment has the potential to unite us across our campuses and create a national student movement. We are all tired of trying to work within the political system where far too many politicians are the lapdogs of Big Coal and Big Oil rather than the guardians of the public interest. We are all sick of wasting hours negotiating with our administrations to win funding for energy-saving light bulbs only to turn around and see our planet still hurtling over the edge. It is time to directly attack the corporations responsible for the climate crisis. Through divestment, we can start to take away some of the wealth and thus the power of the corporate fossil fuel tyrants. And by uniting students across the country in this fight, we will create a national student movement so powerful that politicians will not be able to ignore us when it comes time to take on Washington.

This will be the chapter in the climate movement’s history when we finally start to win. Join us.

Written by Ben Thompson (BU) and Alli Welton (Harvard), and cross-posted on It’s Getting Hot in Here.

Divestment Campaign Taking Off at Tufts!

“If you look at the science that describes what is happening on earth today and aren’t hopeless, you don’t have the correct data. If you meet the people in this unnamed movement and aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a heart” – Paul Hawken in Blessed Unrest

The science is in on climate change, and things aren’t good. We don’t have much time. By conservative estimates, to avoid a massive climate disaster in our lifetimes, we must drastically reduce our fossil fuel consumption in the next 5-10 years. Unfortunately, many people remain in an emotional state of denial, and are not taking action on this dire issue. What’s more, our government could not be more inept at regulating fossil fuel use. Our politicians are too afraid of taking in the major oil, coal, and gas companies, since the fossil fuel industry is such a power special interest group. That leaves us heading to the edge of the cliff at a break-neck speed, with no one grabbing the wheel and steering us to safety.

But I am not hopeless. I am part of a new movement of young people all across the country, taking on the root of the climate crisis: the fossil fuel companies. I am part of a divestment campaign at Tufts, demanding that our university sell off its stocks and bonds in the fossil fuel industry. The oil, coal, and gas companies want to alter the physics and chemistry of the planet, just to make a profit. Young people today aren’t going to stand for it. We are urging Tufts to reinvest in new emerging green technologies, improving campus infrastructure and making it more energy efficient (which leads to a LOT of savings for the University,) and other socially responsible investments.

Here is the plan: build student power, meet with administrators, and eventually pressure them into divesting. We are gathering petitions and writing Op-Eds, planning panels with experts, movie screenings, protests, email blasts, all of it. We are meeting and coordinating with students from half a dozen other schools in Boston, sharing best practices and encouraging each other. We are forming partnerships with local community groups such as Better Future Project and, getting resources and training on student organizing tactics. Last week we met with Bill McKibben, author of the viral Rolling Stone article this past summer, and got some inspiration and guidance on how to push for divestment.


Meeting with Climate Activist and founder of Bill McKibben in Cambridge, MA

Mitigating climate change through personal lifestyle changes hasn’t worked, and neither has political action. We are taking the fight to the people pulling the strings, by taking capital out of the extraction, production, and distribution of fossil fuels. I think we are going to be successful. In the past, universities have divested their endowments for human rights issues, such as the South Africa apartheid divestmentcampaigns in the 80’s and 90’s, and tobacco and firearms divestment campaigns in the mid-2000’s. Financial experts have shown that socially responsible investing does not harm returns; there are plenty of profitable investments besides fossil fuels. We are a national movement, with at least 30 other colleges and universities starting divestment campaigns in the past few months. But most of all, we have passion and creativity, intelligence and heart.

Working on divestment so far has been fun. I’ve laughed a lot, been enraged, felt excited, and met many amazing new people. We are just taking off, but, if we stick with it and keep pressuring our school to do the right thing, I think we will be successful.

A brilliant poet and GenUp friend, Drew Dellinger, has a call to action that inspires me to keep going:

It’s 3:23 in the morning and I’m awake
because my great great, grandchildren won’t let me sleep.
My great great grandchildren ask me in dreams
what did you do, while the planet was plundered?
what did you do, when the earth was unraveling?

surely you did something when the seasons started failing?
as the mammals, reptiles, and birds were all dying?

did you fill the streets with protest when democracy was stolen?

what did you do

We need change, and we need it now. As college students, we have so much power and leverage to make this a national issue, and put real pressure on the oil and coal companies to act responsibly, and only sell as much carbon as is safe to burn.

Update: Today 15 of us met with Tufts Vice President Patricia Campbell and Director of the Office of Sustainability Tina Woolston to deliver over 850 petition signatures calling for divestment, and to make our case to the administration. While we didn’t get many concrete answers, are going to keep at it, and next take our case to the board of trustees!

follow us on FB for updates!


cross-posted on and

What are you doing next week?

Here is what SJSF– and the rest of the US climate movement– is doing!  If you’re interested in getting involved (or are already planning to be there and just want to meet up with an SJSFer), email the SJSF contact listed below who will be attending the event.

Radical Action for Mountain People’s Survival (West Virginia):  A brave group of folks are initiating a direct action campaign to shut down a strip mine in West Virginia.  They need participants and volunteers.  SJSF is working to find funding for a van to bring some Bay State people power in support– we’ve got 8 people signed up already!  Contact Matt Gabrenya at for more information.

Stop the Frack Attack (DC): From July 26th-28th, citizens from across the country will be converging on DC to lobby Congress, host a town hall strategizing meeting, and rally to call for “no more drilling that harms public health, water, and air.”  Contact Adi Nochur at for more information.

Tar Sands Blockade Training (East Texas):  From July 27th-29th, activists are holding a training for the upcoming Tar Sands Blockade civil disobedience to stop the construction of the southern leg of the Keystone XL Pipeline. We don’t have an SJSFer traveling to attend the training, but if you’re interested, contact Dorian Williams at who will be attending the direct action event later this fall.

We Are the Kalamazoo Solidarity Conference (Burlington, VT): July 25th is the 2-year anniversary of the tar sands oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. Conveniently, all the governors of New England states and the premiers of Eastern Canadian provinces are coming together for a Conference in Burlington, VT that weekend. A massive protest is being planned by Tar Sands Free Northeast to deliver the message to the governors and premiers that we do NOT want toxic tar sands oil passing through our region or supplying our energy. Contact Devyn Powell at for more information.


Are you around Boston this summer?

If so, come join our weekly SJSF organizing dinners! We are working on the campaign to end fossil fuel subsidies, an August organizing retreat, and other exciting plans!  Plus, you get to cook and eat good food with great people. The dinners take place every Sunday evening at 6PM, rotating location (email for details).

Saying no to hand outs to the fossil fuel industry!

I am energized about SJSF’s current campaign. And, walking around campus in the unseasonably warm weather having conversations about the campaign with strangers & friends, I meet a lot of people of diverse perspectives who support it as well. Right now the government spends billions of dollars of our tax money a year to the fossil fuel industry, an industry which we know works against our own wellbeing by harming our health (through pollution) and our futures (through climate change).

Talk about wasteful spending! The fossil fuel industry needs no extra money to keep it running. These dollars are coming out of our pockets and going directly toward strengthening an industry that makes us sick, lies to us, and compromises our future. And billions of dollars more are spent each year subsidizing the fossil industry than is spent subsidizing alternative and renewable sources.

The 2013 federal budget is up for review currently, and we are asking our senators and representatives to vote for a federal budget with subsidies for the fossil fuel industry. And we are asking YOU to voice your concern to your own federal senators and reps. Call today and let us know you’ve done so at

On Brandeis campus, we are getting out there and talking to the student body. College campuses have a unique advantage in federal influence in that we have a cross-section of the country. Students at Brandeis and at other schools around MA come from all 50 states and by making calls, they help us establish contact on this issue with congresspeople from all areas of the country.

There’s a lot of work to be done! Congress should be creating its 2013 budget plan by mid April, and so now is the time. We’ve learned that has just last week launched a similar to strike fossil fuel subsidies from the budget. SJSF is tackling the issue using its unique strengths, mobilizing our peers around a federal budget free of fossil fuel subsidies.

Check out the rest of our site for more details on the campaign! Find out how your campus can get involved by sending us an email @

“A Green Economy”

This op-ed by Chloe Maxmin, a Harvard SJSF member,  is cross posted from The Harvard Crimson from Friday February 17th, 2012.




Environmental rhetoric is riddled with fluffy promises about green jobs, green economies, and green governments. These issues may seem simply nebulous and unimportant concepts. Yet the Massachusetts state government is now poised to lead its constituents towards a true green economy.

Students for a Just and Stable Future, a political advocacy group on campus, lobbied to create the first environmental caucus—the Green Economy Caucus—in the Massachusetts State Legislature last year. The purpose of the caucus is to “promote legislation and policy that encourage economic growth and job creation based on sustainable development aimed at improving economic, environmental and social well-being.” This caucus, a victory for SJSF, represents student involvement in the government and the commitment of politicians to act on climate change mitigation. The first Caucus meeting was on February 13, and represents an historic achievement for Massachusetts legislators. The meeting was an enormous success, with about 50 legislators and aides present, and lends hope for future political processes.

The United Nations Environment Programme defines a green economy as “improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.” According to Mihir Chaudhary ’12, leader of SJSF, the “Green Economy Caucus represents the first cohesive political attempt to develop a ‘transition’ to a post-carbon economy. We do not know what that economy will look like, but this is where the true potential of this legislative forum works.”

So, why does anyone care about a green economy? Climate change has an undeniable impact on our way of life. Everyone has heard the statistics: The Northeast has warmed half a degree Fahrenheit per decade since 1970. The numbers of days over 90 degrees Fahrenheit in Massachusetts is expected to increase from between five and 20 days to between 30 and 60 days. Ocean temperatures in the Northeast Atlantic are expected to increase up to eight degrees Fahrenheit due to climate change. These numbers seem abstract, but the realities they represent pose a significant threat to agriculture, fishing industries, tourism, health, and communities—the foundations of our economy.

For example, agriculture—a $94 million per year industry in Massachusetts—will see decreased yields due to higher summer temperatures. This means crop failure and increased pests andweeds. Marine species will move further north to colder waters, jeopardizing the coastal fishing industry. Skiing and snowmobiling industries will be severely affected by decreasing snowfall and shorter seasons. Residents with asthma will face greater risks as air quality worsens. Mosquitoes will become more widespread, acting as vectors for diseases. The list goes on.

This may seem like a hopeless situation, but it is not. The challenges facing society and individuals are also opportunities for change. Humanity has the tools to maintain a high-quality of life and live within ecological limits. Climate change is not an unsolvable issue. Individuals are taking action around the world to decrease their carbon footprint and live in an environmentally and socially just way.  Of equal importance is government’s ability to create meaningful legislation that can reduce dependence on fossil fuels and develop viable alternatives. The Green Economy Caucus is an example of this kind of progress. Hopefully it will serve as a model for other states.

Ideally, the Caucus will develop its own legislation and vote on policies as a bloc. Members will become educated on the importance of a green economy and promote legislation that will advance technological and economic progress. For example, there is already a bill in the state legislature to phase-out coal in Massachusetts by 2015. Frank Smizik and James Eldridge, the co-chairs of the Caucus, are also working to increase usage of green technology 25 percent above 2010 levels by 2020.

These bills, focusing on truly stopping climate change, are a result of the type of coalitions that the Green Energy Caucus will strengthen. Alli Welton ’15, another SJSF member, notes that “people often get the sense that the environmental movement opposes the interests of business and labor—but this Caucus will show that it doesn’t have to be this way.”

The Massachusetts Legislature is active and impassioned. The Green Economy Caucus, founded as a result of student advocacy, will increase the Legislature’s impact by bringing together people from all sectors—health, labor, economic, and environmental—and uniting them in a common interest. This is political change in the making.


Chloe S. Maxmin ’15, a Crimson editorial writer, is a member of Students for a Just and Stable Future.

Weekly Meetings!

Come to our weekly meetings, held every Sunday at 1PM at Kirkland Courtyard (95 Dunster St) on Harvard’s campus, just a few blocks from the T. We usually meet in the courtyard and head inside somewhere, so if you arrive late and can’t find us, phone Alli at 509-322-8755 to join.