The Student Leader:
“There are very big forces that need to be challenged.”
Chloe Maxmin is a sophomore at Harvard University, and co-coordinator for the student-led movement to get Harvard to divest from fossil fuels.
Green America/Martha van Gelder: How has the divestment effort at Harvard been going?
Chloe Maxmin: We spent the whole first semester reaching out to different student groups, making pamphlets, and having educational events where students could learn about climate change and the role that divestment plays in the climate movement.
One of the really good things about the divestment movement is that while there is a lot of economic jargon behind it, and while it is helpful to know a little bit about socially responsible investing, all you really have to know is that this is a moral movement, so anyone can get involved.
Green America/Martha: Why do you think that divestment is a powerful tool in this fight?
Maxmin: It's powerful for a few reasons. One is that it's a very clear moral argument: we don't want our universities investing in companies that are threatening our future. It's counterproductive to everything they’re teaching us, and it is not in line with the values on our campus. So there's this very clear moral disparity, and we're calling Harvard out on that and trying to change it.
Another reason it’s powerful is that it’s very easy for anyone to get involved with the divestment movement. I’ve talked to many individuals who have gone on and divested their own personal portfolios from fossil fuel companies, and pension funds are getting involved too, so it’s something that anyone can grasp onto. Just being on campus, you can see how it’s engaged so many students.
Green America/Martha: It sounds like you had some resistance from the University's president and from the administration.
Maxmin: Harvard’s official position is that our endowment is not a tool for social change, but we know that’s not true because we partially divested from apartheid South Africa, and we divested from Big Tobacco, and we divested from genocide in Darfur. There’s this very strong history of Harvard using its money to send a message of social justice, so it makes sense that Harvard should do the same with climate change, because it’s the most urgent and serious issue of our time.
At the beginning of the semester, our president said that Harvard is not considering divestment, but after the referendum where 72 percent of voting Harvard undergraduates went on record supporting fossil fuel divestment, she said that it was not likely that Harvard would divest. So that’s an improvement.
Green America/Martha: What has been the role of alumni in this campaign?
Maxmin: We have many active alumni around the nation who are helping us draft an alumni resolutions and who are starting to work through their alumni networks and getting local Harvard Clubs to get involved as well.
Green America/Martha: What would be your advice to students or alumni who wanted to get something started at their school?
Maxmin: The divestment movement is about getting universities to divest, but it’s also about raising awareness about the urgency of climate change. So what I would say is you should focus on building student power and engaging students.
Divesting is not radical; it’s very common sense. As Bill McKibben says, the radical ones are the fossil fuel companies who are burning fossil fuels without consequence and without understanding the ramifications of that action. A lot of people stigmatize environmentalism as being too radical and all these hippie tree-huggers, but I think that divestment really shows that this is a very practical issue that anyone can grab onto.
It is very disturbing that this is an industry that is literally threatening people's lives. There are very big forces that need to be challenged, and I turned to divestment as my way to continue to challenge Exxon and these other major fossil fuel corporations and to pressure Harvard to take a stand on this issue.