A group of Harvard protesters will appeal a decision made by a Massachusetts’s state court last year that they have no standing to sue the Harvard Corporation over its refusal to divest fossil fuel assets.
A ragtag group of divestment activists at Harvard University, called the Harvard Climate Justice Coalition, argue that investments in oil companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron harm students, faculty members, and future generations, which if not addressed, would violate the university’s own charitable obligations.
A state trial court agreed last year with a request by Harvard to dismiss the case, stating the students do not have standing to challenge the decisions of their school’s leadership. Essentially, the court told protesters they have no right to tell the university what assets it can and cannot invest in.
The group’s members represented themselves throughout the entire litigation process. They also claimed the court should hear their case on both procedural and substantive grounds, as the burning of fossil fuels is supposedly an existential threat to those attending the Ivy League university.
Former NASA climate scientist James Hansen filed an amicus brief in support of the Harvard Climate Justice Coalition, in which he stated the group’s claims should be heard because they are adversely affected by the school’s investment policies.
“Interest in this matter derives from his understanding that Earth’s energy imbalance caused principally by the burning of fossil fuels is now disrupting the climate system to which humans and the balance of nature as we know it has adapted, and that this imbalance increasingly threatens the lives and prospects of both extant and future generation appellants,” the brief reads.
Investments in oil companies and other interests, the brief continued, pose a “dire threat to the population in low-lying coastal regions, placing in jeopardy the functionality of thousands of cities and the persistence of institutions of special interest to Coalition members,” which include the “Harvard Campus that lie with in or near the reach of the rising seas”
Harvard, among other institutions with large fossil fuel assets, argues that financial portfolios must be managed for the financial well being of the schools’ resources. Global warming can be fought through teaching and research, these schools argue.
“The concerns of the students are understandable but the message from the divestment movement is fundamentally misguided,” Robert Stavins, the director of Harvard’s environmental economics program, told reporters. “We should be focusing on actions that will make a real difference.”
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