Nearly two months after she called on Harvard University to divest from fossil fuels in a move she deemed necessary to “address the existential crisis of our time,” Kat Taylor, Member of the Harvard University Board of Overseers, announced her resignation in protest over the school’s failure to divest from fossil fuels.
Divestment of fossil fuel investments across US tertiary education institutions has been one of several significant driving forces for the global divestment movement as a whole. Of the $6.15 trillion that has been divested since the beginning of the global divestment campaign, 16% has been divested from educational institutions around the world. However, while many of its peers have committed to 100% fossil fuel divestment over the last five years, Harvard University has been unusually unmoved. It was not until April 2017 that Harvard University finally made a decision, and even then it was only in part. Speaking at a Climate Week event, Colin Butterfield, Harvard Management Company’s (HMC) Managing Director of the Committee of Natural Resources, said that it will be “pausing” direct investments in oil, gas, and coal.
“What I can tell you is, from my area, I could honestly say that I doubt — I can’t say never, because never say never — but I doubt that we would ever make a direct investment with fossil fuels,” Butterfield said at the time. “But that’s more of an Investment Committee decision, and I cannot talk on their behalf.”
In March of this year, Kat Taylor, Member of the Harvard University Board of Overseers, penned an op-ed at The Harvard Crimson in which she lambasted the University for its continuing commitment to invest in fossil fuels and called on the University “to divest from fossils fuels to prevent the end of life as we know it through cascading climate-driven disasters.”
Beyond the environmental and moral argument, Taylor also highlighted the fact that the University would have seen better endowment returns over the last ten years had Harvard’s leadership listened to the student and faculty movement and instructed HMC to divest from oil, coal, and gas — a fact that has been proven time and again — before adding, “Harvard would do better investing according to its values, by ruling out positions that foment environmental harm, and simultaneously avoiding unsustainable investment practices.”
Kathryn A. “Kat” Taylor — alumni of the Harvard Class of 1980 and Co-Founder and CEO of Beneficial State Bank — seemingly wasn’t content with warning her fellow Harvard Board Members, however, and in an open letter published on Medium and addressed to The Harvard Board of Overseers, Taylor resigned her position as a direct result of Harvard University’s “failure” to divest its “multi-billion dollar endowment” from fossil fuel investments.
Taylor thus brings to a close six years on the Board during which she pointed to “Harvard’s inaction during my tenure, and many more that preceded my participation as an Overseer” to divest, adding that “Over the last decade, Harvard’s endowment has severely underperformed financially compared to its peers, even as we have continued to invest in activities and products that undermine the well-being of our communities, nation and planet.”
“I leave with an urgent call to those of you who remain seated as Overseers to use your influence to create the conditions under which the incoming President and his Corporation board not only can, but also are imperatively called to act to address this critical issue. History is on your side.”
In response to Taylor’s resignation, Bill McKibeen, co-founder of the 350.org initiative — which has been instrumental in the global divestment campaign — remarked, “The establishment is really beginning to crack apart on this question of climate change — when you have a bank president resigning her Harvard post to protest inaction on divestment it’s a sign that the message has gotten through. On an ever-hotter earth, leaders are starting to turn up the heat.”
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