Harvard Divests From Fossil Fuels, Yale Beats Harvard… in Divesting From Fossil Fuels, GoFossilFree.org

by | Sep 13, 2021 | Podcasts, The Climate Daily

Harvard divests from fossil fuels…sort of, plus Yale beats Harvard…in divesting from fossil fuels. Find out if your college has divested yet, and GoFossilFree.Org!



Hey, finally some good news from my alma mater. Harvard University announced last week that its Harvard Management Company (that which manages the $41 billon dollar Harvard endowment fund) will divest from fossil fuels, in this century!

In an email to Harvard affiliates last week, Harvard President, Lawrence S. Bacow made it clear that HMC “does not intend” to make future investments in the fossil fuel industry. He said the University would not renew HMC’s partnerships with private equity funds that have holdings in the sector once its current obligations to them expire.

“Given the need to decarbonize the economy and our responsibility as fiduciaries to make long-term investment decisions that support our teaching and research mission, we do not believe such investments are prudent,” he wrote.

According to the Harvard Crimson, in recent years, attempting to assuage the generations of Harvard alum calling for full fossil fuel divestiture from its portfolio, Harvard ceased direct investments in fossil fuel in February 2021. Just last April pledged to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the endowment by 2050 (weak), and in the past month appointed its first vice-provost for Climate and Sustainability.

Why does Harvard finally divesting its ginormous investment portfolio of fossil fuels matter to the rest of us? Bill McKibben, founder of climate campaign group 350.org and a Harvard alum said it best, “The richest school on earth, which in 2013 pledged never to divest, has been forced to capitulate. I can’t overstate the power of this win. It will reverberate the world around.”

In fact, the American Petroleum Institute, which represents the oil and natural-gas industry, issued a statement right after the announcement, pleading for other universities to not follow Harvard’s lead.

DEEPER DIVE: WaPo, Harvard Climate Change Solutions Fund, Boston Globe, Harvard Crimson



Hate to stomp on your buzz, Harvard/Ivy Man, but in this case Yale beats Harvard. 

Yale is only a four-letter word in your provincial little world. And in a classic case of, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way,” Yale just committed its entire campus operations to achieving zero actual carbon emissions by 2050, without having to purchase carbon offsets. That goes above and beyond Harvard’s pledge to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in its endowment by 2050. 

This news follows an announcement by Yale president Peter Salovey and Provost Scott Strobel last April that Yale will do two things related to fossil fuels: divest, and develop a list of fossil fuel producers ineligible for investment by the Yale Endowment, based upon Fossil Fuel Investment Principles developed back in December 2020.

“Climate experts around the globe are clear: we must act to avoid catastrophic, irreversible damage to our planet due to greenhouse gases,” said Salovey. “Taken together, our announcement today amounts to a simple commitment: every part of Yale will do its part in the critical coming decades.”

Strobel added, “With the expertise we have at Yale, we have a responsibility to drive breakthroughs.”

Why does Yale’s dual move toward decarbonization matter to us? Because meeting the new carbon goals will require using both established and emerging technologies and shifting to renewable energy sources as rapidly as possible, and require investments in university buildings and equipment on a large scale.

For example, Yale wants to lead all universities in using power plant turbines fueled by non-fossil fuels. That’s an area of active development by turbine manufacturers. Similarly, Yale will pursue innovations that advance the drive to electrify thermal loads, such as the next generation of geothermal energy systems. In other words, Yale will drive innovation and make markets…and maybe, just maybe little orphan alternative energy geothermal will finally get its due. 

DEEPER DIVE: Yale News, Yale Office of the President, Planetary Solutions Project,

Yale List of Ineligible Fuel Fossil Producers, Yale Fossil Fuel Investment Principles



Although Harvard’s decision carries powerful symbolism, it is far from the first significant U.S. institution to divest.  According to the investment bank, Raymond James, full or partial divestments from the fossil fuel industry since 2015 have shifted more than $17 trillion out of the sector.

“This is a broad-based trend, and it is very large in scale,” said Pavel Molchanov, an analyst with Raymond James. “These fossil fuel divestments mean there’s a smaller pool of investors to choose from, and that raises the cost of capital for fossil fuel businesses. That’s the impact.”

And that’s why this matters to us.

And that’s why this week, The Climate Daily is going to spotlight colleges and other institutions actively divesting away from fossil fuel producers. And we’ll also hip you to organizations helping you discover if your alma mater is on the right track, and if not, how to help them get there.



“If it is wrong to wreck the climate, then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage.” That’s the operating principle behind the climate change-combating organization Fossil Free, a project of 350.org. The goal of Fossil Free is to motivate educational and religious institutions, governments and any other public service organization to divest from fossil fuel companies.

Fossil Free has compiled a list of the planet’s top 200 fossil fuel companies which its global network of campaigners use when creating campaigns designed to encourage divestment in their communities away from oil and gas producers.

According to its website over 1300 organizations have divested over $14.5 trillion dollars. They include faith-based organizations, educational institutions, philanthropic foundations, governments, and pension funds. Additionally, some 58-thousand people have divested over $5.2 billion dollars.

Total divestment commitments include full commitments, partial commitments, and divestments from coal & tar sands. The totals indicate the cumulative number of the values that we gathered at the time the announcement was made and are based on available public information.

The other goal of Fossil Free is to RE-invest divested money into companies and communities aligned with the Three P’s (aka the Triple Bottom Line)—people first, planet second, profits third. The aim is to develop and sustain businesses that prioritize democratizing the workplace, driving social equity, as well as promoting ecological wellbeing and resilience, and, particularly in the case of public sector companies, creating infrastructure projects that “build a zero carbon future while making cities towns and villages more ecologically sustainable, and healthier for all their citizens.”

DEEPER DIVE: Fossil Free, Triple Bottom Line, Reinvestment Principles