American Charities May Legally Have to Divest from Fossil Fuels

industry

Student groups have long called for their educational institutions to divest from the destructive fossil fuel industry (and ideally reinvest in renewables). This passionate demand from students has seen success at various schools around the world, and their fight in the USA may have gotten easier thanks to a change in law by the Biden administration. Large schools in the states tend to have a charitable arm to give out scholarships and collect donations from wealthy benefactors (who donate to dodge taxes, but that’s a separate issue). Charities in the states are obligated to serve the public interest, and investing in the destruction of the planet is not in the public interest according to the Biden administration. Let’s hope the divestment movement continues to grow!

Like other public charitable institutions, Harvard is legally bound to serve the public interest in exchange for privileges such as tax exemption. Harvard is also required to manage its endowment prudently, in order to further its mission of educating young people and creating a more just world.

Fossil fuel investments are incompatible with those obligations. Fossil fuels are not only the primary contributor to climate change; their extraction and refinement also emit toxic pollutants—often in Indigenous and low-income communities, where environmental racism is most acutely felt. For decades, fossil fuel companies have obscured the scientific reality of climate change and thwarted climate policy; in recent years they have also attacked climate scienceand funded research—including at Harvard—that tacitly furthers their agenda. Sea level rise caused by climate change even threatens Harvard’s campus.

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