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Earth Education Power

93 Harvard Faculty Members Call On the University To Divest From Fossil Fuels 214

Posted by samzenpus
from the stop-burning-bro dept.
Daniel_Stuckey writes: "One hundred faculty members at one of the nation's most renowned university have signed an open letter calling on Harvard to divest its holdings in fossil fuel companies. Harvard's is the largest university endowment in the world. For the last few years, a national movement has called on on universities, foundations, and municipalities to divest from fossil fuels. Led by students, as well as organized groups like 350.org, it has seen a number of significant victories — at least nine colleges and over a dozen cities have pulled their investments in companies that extract or burn fossil fuels like coal and oil."
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93 Harvard Faculty Members Call On the University To Divest From Fossil Fuels

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  • by Sangui5 (12317) on Friday April 11, 2014 @12:57AM (#46722205)
    Not to be cynical..

    OK, that's a lie. Cynical mode is *on*.

    How many of these 100 faculty (or is it 93?) are actually qualified to have an opinion about this? How many are involved in hard science (physics, chemistry, engineering)? And how many are in fields that deal in arguments and sophistry above all else?

    How many of the signers are in fields that would have been duped by the Sokal Affair [wikipedia.org] and how many have done a good job of curating their facts? How many of those 100 are proprietors of horse-caca? You tell me 100 Harvard faculty want to get out of coal/petroleum... which of them do I care about more than if you told me 100 ballet dancers wanted the same?
    • by riverat1 (1048260) on Friday April 11, 2014 @01:06AM (#46722241)

      Why should you care? This is the faculty of Harvard to the school's administration. It just means more shares on the open market for you to invest in.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      What a pretentious load of shit. How do you even get up in the morning, what with the enormous weight of your own head?

      Yeah, so many Harvard professors are no more qualified than a ballet dancer to comment on whether to invest in fossil fuels. Typical arrogant netizen; most actual scientists can have a civil discussion with other highly educated people and not resort to declaring them morons and sophists. How dare someone who isn't a scientist have an opinion on science policy (or put forth any effo

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Technician (215283)

      I wonder how many of them drive a car, or ride in one, or a bus, etc. I wonder how they heat their homes. I think they should also cut off using fossil fuels. If everyone used wood heat, that is not sustainable. Ever seen an apartment complex without electric power? My fossil fuel use is supplimated by solar. I don't own a large enough plot of land to solar power my transportation requirements, let alone the home energy requirements.

      • by Capsaicin (412918) *

        I wonder how many of them drive a car, or ride in one, or a bus, etc. I wonder how they heat their homes.

        Well of of them, but how is that in the least bit relevant to protecting your portfolio from the carbon bubble, not is it entirely pertinent to the question of solving AGW.

        I don't own a large enough plot of land to ...

        Just as well that it isn't down to you personally to cut 80% of global fossil fuel use, isn't it? Nor is it down to any other individual. Nor does the fact that someone drive a car re

    • by pitchpipe (708843) on Friday April 11, 2014 @02:27AM (#46722547)

      How many of these 100 faculty (or is it 93?) are actually qualified to have an opinion about this?

      Conservatives sure are a funny (insane?) bunch nowadays. If you're an actual scientist who is an expert in climate research, and say that climate change is real, that man is causing it, and that it will probably be a bad thing overall then you're just shilling for more of that lucrative research money (and want to destroy America). If you're not a scientist who is an expert in the field, but defer your judgement to those who are experts (of which 97% are in agreement) as most educated people do, then you're not qualified to speak on the matter, so you should just shut up (because you want to destroy America).

      Honestly, four or five (or ten?) years ago I might have just thought that you didn't have the facts, but in the year 2014 I just find it weird. Why is reducing how much oil we burn such a bad thing? I don't fucking get it.

      • by thegarbz (1787294) on Friday April 11, 2014 @03:51AM (#46722905)

        I don't understand why it needed to be related to climate change at all.

        Cities smell. We have nothing but garbage and exhaust fumes everywhere. In places where a lot of diesel is used un-burnt particulates coat the houses leaving black soot everywhere.

        Even if you don't care about climate change, or don't care about exhausting resources, why shouldn't we reduce the amount of oil we are burning? Pollution is still pollution.

        • Cities smell. We have nothing but garbage and exhaust fumes everywhere.

          In fairness though, we don't all live in New York.

      • by phantomfive (622387) on Friday April 11, 2014 @04:31AM (#46723109) Journal

        Honestly, four or five (or ten?) years ago I might have just thought that you didn't have the facts, but in the year 2014 I just find it weird. Why is reducing how much oil we burn such a bad thing? I don't fucking get it.

        I don't think anyone opposes reducing oil consumption (Jon Stewart once had a clip where every single president since Carter said they were going to reduce dependency on foreign oil). What people oppose are things like making transfer payments of more than $80 billion a year to developing countries, which is what the IPCC suggests doing to stop global warming.

        Another thing almost everyone seems to like is electric cars. Some people want them to have better mileage, or charge faster, and a lot of people oppose giving tax credits to the people who buy them, but once you get past that almost everyone I know thinks they are a great idea.

        Electric cars are half of the solution to cutting CO2 emissions, the other half is switching to nuclear fuel (renewables don't do it because they always come combined with natural gas power plants). A lot of people oppose the actual solution, but that is the most likely way to reduce CO2 emissions, any other plan that is short of that (like transferring money to impoverished countries) probably won't stop emissions enough to make a difference to AGW.

      • "Conservatives sure are a funny (insane?) bunch nowadays"

        The worst part is that they do actually have a few good ideas and positions - but the heavily polarised nature of US politics makes it very difficult to mix elements of the 'conservative package' and 'liberal package.' Doing so just means both sides will oppose you.

        • by RKThoadan (89437)

          But it's truly hilarious when we find their not-entirely-terrible ideas (ACA/Obamacare) and try to implement them. Their insanity forces them to immediately become against it. I'm not sure how many good ideas they have, but as soon as a "liberal" tries to implement it they turn against it completely.

      • by Sangui5 (12317)

        How many of these 100 faculty (or is it 93?) are actually qualified to have an opinion about this?

        Conservatives sure are a funny (insane?) bunch nowadays. If you're an actual scientist who is an expert in climate research, and say that climate change is real, that man is causing it, and that it will probably be a bad thing overall then you're just shilling for more of that lucrative research money (and want to destroy America). If you're not a scientist who is an expert in the field, but defer your judgement to those who are experts (of which 97% are in agreement) as most educated people do, then you're not qualified to speak on the matter, so you should just shut up (because you want to destroy America).

        Honestly, four or five (or ten?) years ago I might have just thought that you didn't have the facts, but in the year 2014 I just find it weird. Why is reducing how much oil we burn such a bad thing? I don't fucking get it.

        Conservatives sure are a funny (insane?) bunch nowadays. If you're an actual scientist who is an expert in climate research, and say that climate change is real, that man is causing it, and that it will probably be a bad thing overall then you're just shilling for more of that lucrative research money (and want to destroy America). If you're not a scientist who is an expert in the field, but defer your judgement to those who are experts (of which 97% are in agreement) as most educated people do, then you're not qualified to speak on the matter, so you should just shut up

        You seem to have gotten my point backwards

        When Joe DiMaggio comes on the radio, and tells you to smoke Winston cigarettes, because they're invigorating and healthful, you should ignore him. When a former playboy bunny goes on television and tells you that vaccines cause autism, you should ignore her. When Rush Limbaugh goes on air and tells you climate change is a conspiracy made up by secret hidden commies working together with Al-Qaeda, you should ignore him.

        And when the chair of the divinity department

    • 9 out of 91 are actual scientist or their discipline *somehow* has something to do with science. All the others do not. Look, everybody is entitled to their opinion and advocate for a particular change within their community. But this isn't any different than, say, a (small) group of citizens advocating for something that affects their community. The real question is: What about the vast majority of other academics at Harvard whose field of expertize would be more insightful towards this goal? Why are they
  • As supply goes down and demand increases based on population growth...

    • by Travis Mansbridge (830557) on Friday April 11, 2014 @01:52AM (#46722417)
      Yeah, then they could just buy another planet after this one craps out
      • by bloodhawk (813939)
        The only difference the decision on whether they invest in those stocks or not is who ends up getting the profits. I am sure others that will happily use the profits for far worse causes than Harvard ever would will be happy to take the shares off their hands. The amusing thing here is the divestment of such interests is more than likely to the detriment of the planet rather than to its good. who owns the shares doesn't change fosil fuel usage, it only changes who gets the money.
  • by MouseTheLuckyDog (2752443) on Friday April 11, 2014 @01:41AM (#46722367)

    Well it means that University investments will not go towards fossil fuels, but why were they investing in fossil feuls in the first place?
    Oh wait. It must be because fossil fuels were the most lucrative alternative. So invest in the second most lucrative investment. The University will just make less money. It just means their endowment will be smaller. Which just means that their budget will be smaller.
    '
    Nowadays, Universities don't have many alternatives to compensate for smaller budgets, but they do have one major place they traditionally look to to, tuitions.

    Except:

    They've proven themselves not progressive. Just look at how much they demand in order to be allowed to attend classes. They are a school for the rich, by the rich.

    So really raising tuition is not a good idea.

    I know! They can simply cut faculty pay!

    I'm so glad that 100 faculty are volunteering to have their pay cut.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 11, 2014 @03:53AM (#46722913)

      The timeframe for university endowments and the goals of a university is much longer than for an individual retiring in 30 years and dying in 50. You investing in something which will do serious harm in two generations is immoral but won't actually hurt you. A university will still be around.

      • by Sir Holo (531007) on Friday April 11, 2014 @04:55AM (#46723203)
        Mark commenter up!

        The decisions of established institutions are indeed made based upon time-scales longer than the individual participants' life-spans.

        A faculty community willing to back a position that will ultimately bear its fruit after they are dead is to be respected, or at least soberly considered.
        • According to this viewpoint every organised religion is to be respected, or at least soberly considered.

          I'm not saying they're wrong neccessarily, just that the expected timescale of their ambitions does not add merit or weight to their arguments. Especially if there are tangible social and career benefits to be gained from backing a position today, or from the other direction possible adverse effects should they choose not to sign the petition.

    • by tulcod (1056476)

      Harvard has a sick amount of money, and they *can* afford to miss some of it. If they "lose" money by not investing in oil, they will still be able to fund many students' tuition fees (because Harvard is not /just/ a school for the rich, although arguably you need to be in higher income classes to be admitted in the first place).

      If Harvard "loses" money or otherwise does not have the budget they projected, nothing changes.

    • They are a school for the rich, by the rich.

      Which makes me wonder where the "Why is this on Slashdot!?" crowds are. This is about some political posturing by some rich folks, like: "Heidi Klum refuses to wear fur from cute dead animals!". This is TMZ stuff. Rich folks can afford to do some very strange things with their money. What do I care if George Clooney invests in Beanie Babies or Bitcoins, and divests of companies selling sweet, sugary, fattening drinks?

      Also, what it the point of divesting in oil companies? They see themselves as "energ

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by SEE (7681)

        Which makes me wonder where the "Why is this on Slashdot!?" crowds are.

        Now, now. I think it is news that at least 93 members of the Harvard faculty are so ignorant of how the stock market works that they don't notice that any divestment by any party, by necessity, is automatically matched by an equal investment by the counterparties who buy the stock from the divestor.

        The problem is the headline, which should read something like, "93 Harvard faculty members admit they're as ignorant of economics as creationists are of biology". Well, and a summary that seems to think it's po

        • by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Friday April 11, 2014 @07:07AM (#46723643)

          > Now, now. I think it is news that at least 93 members of the Harvard faculty are so ignorant of how the stock market works that they don't notice that any divestment by any party, by necessity, is automatically matched by an equal investment by the counterparties who buy the stock from the divestor.

          This is outright nonsense. Refusals by large investors, especially if those refusals catch on among other inivestores, affect investment trading and income profoundly. Please review the history of divestment in South Africa for more details, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D... [wikipedia.org].

          • by SEE (7681)

            No, divestment doesn't touch income at all, in the slightest, much less "profoundly". Boycotts and sanctions do, and what hurt South Africa was the boycotts and sanctions. If they were calling for Harvard to boycott energy from fossil fuels, there would actually be an economic point to the petition.

            Divestment, on the other hand, does precisely nothing to income. In order to divest, Party B, the divestor, sells Party A's stock to Party C. Party C invests in the stock to the exact same extent that Party B

            • What is divestment but a form of boycott? There is _nothing_ that compels an "automatic, equal and opposite transaction": selling stock can actually generate a positive feedback loop that causes _more_ stock to be sold.

              If what you describe were true, boycotts wouldn't work at all.

              • by SEE (7681)

                What is divestment but a form of boycott?

                Boycotts of a company's products work because the operations of a company are making and selling the product, and not buying that product cuts off their income, lowering their profits. Boycotts of a company's stock, on the other hand, have no affect on the company's operations at all, and do not affect either income or profits. The business goes on as normal.

                There is _nothing_ that compels an "automatic, equal and opposite transaction"

                Um, yes, there is. The fact that until someone buys the stock, you have not actually sold it. This is really, really basic. Otherwise there's no s

                • > Yes, if lots of people want to sell the stock and few want to buy, that makes the stock price go down

                  This is the key, along with the loss of _trades_. So, yes, you've a point that someone has to buy it for the sales to happen. But the buying and selling of stock, it's _lighidity_, is key to quite a lot of stock profit.

      • by PPH (736903)

        You can bet your hairy ass that Exxon is working on alternative sources of energy income for the time when oil runs out.

        I'll bet my hairy ass that Exxon will sit back and wait to buy up whichever startup and technology wins in the race to develop new energy sources. Sure, they have their own solar and geothermal R&D groups. But that's just noise on their balance sheet. They aren't in a 'produce or die' mode when it comes to this stuff. So I'd put my money in firms that are pure plays on these technologies.

        We'll be charging our cars at their service stations in the future.

        I'd bet against that. The economics of charging stations is such that they are relatively cheap to install in any gar

    • by Khashishi (775369)

      Maybe that's a sacrifice they're willing to make. Nobody said it would be easy to get off coal.

    • Are these stock market investments? Commodity futures? Or business partnerships where pulling their bonds removes money from the business?

      If they're pulling investments in securities, the companies they're divesting from don't suffer any impact nor gain any benefit from Harvard's investment behavior.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 11, 2014 @02:31AM (#46722571)

    We in the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara have a small endowment, but still, as a matter of principle, are looking to divest. The Unitarian Universalist Association has also adopted a policy of divestment. I find it amusing that some comments are anti-divestment based on questioning the scientific street cred of those in charge, or asking for, divestment. This is why we have climate scientists. Not everyone is a climate scientist. When 99.8% of the scientists are in agreement on a particular issue... 'nuff said.

  • Sell off the stock that is generating them funds. Have fun explaining why fees are even higher.

    Such economic strategy takes a university mind.

    • Harvard has a $32 billion endowment. They're not raising fees anytime soon from a half percent adjustment to their endowment's growth rate. In addition, endowments are specifically meant to be used to perpetually fund aspects of the school, not short term, and thus the professors have a solid point against investing it in an industry that will clearly be unsustainable over the life of the endowment.
  • Small beer (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jamesl (106902) on Friday April 11, 2014 @06:51AM (#46723593)

    That's 100 (or 93) faculty members out of "about 2,400 faculty members."

    Another headline could be, "2,307 Harvard Faculty Members Don't Call On the University to Divest From Fossil Fuels."

    http://www.harvard.edu/harvard... [harvard.edu]

    • "Fewer than 4% of Harvard faculty call on University to Divest..."

      "96% of Harvard faculty oppose divestment from fossil fuels..."

      It's amazing how you can shape a story simply through the headline..

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      Inaction up to this point does not signal that the other 2,307 disagree, they have merely not stated an opinion yet. That's how these things work: a small but significant group makes a proposal for the others to consider.

  • I call on the Harvard professors to fight grade inflation. The most common grade given in Harvard is A minus. A and A minus for 50% of the students, B and B plus for another 50%. Less than 10% get C plus, C, C minus, D plus, D minus and F.

    Seriously, Harvard is getting to be overrated. Their admission policies claim to be shooting for all kinds of diversity, racial, ethnic, geographical, socio-economic etc etc. But in reality, American applicants disclose everything, salary, bonus, assets, even unrealized s

    • Let me play Devil's Advocate on grade inflation at Harvard and other Ivy Leagues. Harvard is so selective that only the best of the best have a hope of getting in. So why would you handicap the best of the best with respect to community colleges and give them bad GPAs? They are *all* A-class students, right? So why not give them all A's?

      Second: what's so inherently wrong with the idea of learning without pressure? Who might be more qualified than the best of the best to do that? I.e., those who can g

  • ...just stop. Please just stop it with this social justice, banding together for good crap.
  • by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Friday April 11, 2014 @08:58AM (#46724133)

    It's all fine to tell the endowment to divest in this or that, but investments need to be well balanced, which includes energy companies that produce fossil fuels. I would imagine that the endowments have made large gains from the oil industry investments, like most other investors have. So, if they divest and the yields are lower, are these 93 faculty members who feel so strongly about it going to take pay cuts?

    It's easy to take a stand on an issue when you have no skin in the game.

  • The companies that offer the energy now are in many cases (but not all) the best positioned to invest in future energy sources. They have distribution networks with rights of way for oil, gas, and electric. Deep geothermal needs drills just like gas and oil does. The gasoline sellers have the convenience stores for quick charging stations, battery swaps, or refills of hydrogen or methanol for fuel cells.

    If you cut investment in energy companies that plan on being at the forefront of investment of any viable

    • exactly right. What is needed is NOT to try and destroy them, but instead to get them to change because you DO have large investments.
      In addition, they need to put their money where their mouth is. Get them to put in geo-thermal HVAC on campus. Put in solar panels that were built by these companies. Heck, if these schools would go together and say that they will buy X amount of solar panels from one of those companies if they built them in the USA, they could help those companies make the jump. At the same
  • Instead, push them to put in geo-thermal into your school for HVAC, OR buy some of their solar panels if they sell them, IOW, make it happen by buying from them and supporting them to change things. Simple as that.

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