Students at Harvard have voted in favour of divesting the school's $30.7bn endowment from fossil fuel related assets and in doing so have made their university the first in the US to pass a student fossil fuel divestment referendum.
A statement released Monday by 350.org announced that 72% of voters chose yes on referendum 1 which asked "do you support Harvard divesting its endowment from the fossil fuel industry in order to avert further environment and human rights crises due to climate change?".
The referendum was the result of the Divest Harvard campaign led by the Harvard chapter of Students for a Just and Stable Future, and supported by 350.org, and is the first time in six years that a student group has secured the number of signatures necessary for a referendum question to be included in student body elections.
The overwhelming support for divestment occurred despite a recent editorial in The Crimson, Harvard's daily newspaper, which argued that "calling for universities like Harvard to divest in companies involved in the extraction or processing (of) fossil fuels goes too far".
Similar comments were also recently made by Drew Faust, President of Harvard, who, during a recent student forum claimed that divestment at Harvard occurrs "only in the most extreme of circumstances", a reference to divestment actions that were taken in response to apartheid South Africa.
In spite of the opposition, students rejoiced at the referendum result.
In 1990, 52% of voting students supported complete divestment from apartheid South Africa. Today 72% of voting students are raising their voices for fossil divestment, telling Harvard to stop investing in companies that are threatening our future", said Chloe Mamin, a co-coordinator for Divest Harvard.
Bill McKibbon, Harvard alumnus and founder of 350.org, a grassroots climate action movement, also expressed excitement at the outcome of the referendum.
"Nothing has made me prouder to be a Harvard alum than the news that its students are leading the country in standing up to coal and gas and oil, McKibben said.
In a recent and now widely discussed Rolling Stone article McKibbon, who is currently on the road as part of the "Do The Math Tour" (which Evolver is helping to sponsor), gave a prescient warning of the dangers of climate change claiming that despite an increasing global awareness of the detrimental effects of increasing carbon emissions there are plans to burn "five times as much oil and coal and gas as climate scientists think is safe".
Over 50 schools across the US have launched fossil fuel divestment campaigns with Harvard being the wealthiest to so far join the movement.
Image by thebadastronomer, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.