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Earth Education Power

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

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, 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 [] 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 11, 2014 @01:20AM (#46722279)

    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 effort to shape said policy) which will profoundly affect their life and the fate of the entire planet!?

  • 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.


    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 erikkemperman ( 252014 ) on Friday April 11, 2014 @01:46AM (#46722385)

    Ask all those leftwingnuts at Harvard how they intend to run the university without electricity.... ...or are they now finally ready to embrace nuclear power?

    Because obviously only left leaning folks believe we might have to do something about reducing carbon emissions.

    It's fascinating how this issue has been successfully been turned into a partisan one. How is it that I'd have decent odds at guessing someone's position on climate change by asking about their opinion, say, on obamacare, abortion, the second amendment? It seems to me a situation almost unique to the US.

    You really could use a couple more parties, because it seems highly unlikely that every individual agrees with one of only two parties in almost every issue. It's almost as if a lot of people don't actually consider their own position, but think of themselves as red or blue and adopt all those opinions wholesale.

  • Oh don't worry, they "want" us to invest in expensive energy like solar and windmills. So you can go bankrupt trying to pay to refrigerate your food, or heat your house. I mean don't you want to be like Ontario(cdn), who will very soon have the most expensive electricity in North America? I mean we just got hit with a your electricity price will increase by 42% over the next 5 years. [] This is of course to cover the massive screw-over from FiT(Feed in Tariff) programs to pay for all of the green energy projects.

  • 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 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 11, 2014 @03:36AM (#46722827)

    Oh noes! Not completely fucking over the next generations, because you're a dipshit, costs extra??? Who'd a thunk it? I mean, come on, who gives a flying fuck about the weather in 100 years, right? Who cares one shit about somebody 5 generations into the future when you can save a fucking dime per kW used? Nobody, that's who! Mod parent up --

    Since this anti-science sentiment seems to be largely limited to America, why don't let them stay in their denial and oil-focused economy and industry while the rest of the world moves on to take the lead with new technology and industry []. An America with less economic power and relevance in the world could be a good thing.

  • 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.

  • 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 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.

  • by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Friday April 11, 2014 @04:33AM (#46723119)

    Because the benefits of fossil fuel usage are local, while the costs are global. It's your basic tragedy of the commons thing: The optimal strategy for each individual actor is to exploit the available resources maximally, but if everyone does that then it ends in disaster for all.

  • by Stuarticus ( 1205322 ) on Friday April 11, 2014 @04:41AM (#46723161)
    The average person's ability to "invest tomorrow" is piss poor, that's why they need a push sometimes. Investing in the short term now in renewable energy is going to result in significant price decreases in the future, especially when you consider the likely future path of oil prices.
  • 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.
  • by SEE ( 7681 ) on Friday April 11, 2014 @06:36AM (#46723563) Homepage

    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 possible for any divestment campaign to have victories. But, still, the underlying fact 93 Harvard professors are ignorant fools is worth noting.

  • 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." []

  • by Rich0 ( 548339 ) on Friday April 11, 2014 @07:11AM (#46723657) Homepage

    renewables don't do it because they always come combined with natural gas power plants

    Care to explain why you think that solar, tide, hydro, wind would necessarily need to be combined with natural gas plants?

    Hydro doesn't need to be, but just about every major river that can be dammed already is, and environmentalists aren't really happy about that. Like it or not, hydro isn't really going to replace much more of our fossil-fuel-based power generation.

    The rest tend to be inconsistent so unless you have a way to store power (variations on hydro usually), you end up needing fossil-fuels in order to take up the slack. Diversity of sources will probably help, but only so far. You still end up with a ton of idle fossil-fuel plants even in the best case just so that if you get a week of cloudy non-windy weather you don't have blackouts. Nobody likes paying for idle plants, so the pressure is always there to run them and build fewer renewable plants.

    The main problem with renewables is that for the most part they're just not ready yet unless you want a significant increase in energy costs. In some situations they're becoming competitive, but I've yet to hear about anybody who has a plan for having them handle baseline load for any significant area.

    The big advantage of nuclear is that it works just like coal/etc - you fuel it up and you run it as much as you want to day or night, and you can build one right now. The main downside is that people have a lot of irrational fear about them. There are also what I'd consider legitimate concerns - from an engineering standpoint they certainly can be built/operated safely, but in practice there can be motivation to cut corners.

Variables don't; constants aren't.