Why All Nonprofits Should Lose Their Tax-Exemption

Even the “nonprofit” Harvard University, with the world’s largest academic endowment fund, refuses to do its duty to the public and to their own students, and to divest itself from the companies that are destroying our planet — companies that are destroying the biosphere that their students and everyone else will inherit. What, then, does their “nonprofit” status really amount to, but a sham to shift their own tax-burden onto everybody else — a tax-shifting scheme? If they are so obsessed with profit that they don’t even care about the planet, and their students’ future, then they are really just an outrage, not at all better than the companies they invest in that are destroying our planet — and they should therefore be stripped of their “nonprofit” status, and of the privileges that it bestows upon them at everyone else’s expense. They are just a tax-shifting racket, and should be recognized as such.

Thus, I am here publicly urging Congress to strip of “nonprofit” status all organizations that, like Harvard, continue to invest in fossil-fuels-exploration and development corporations, such as Exxon Mobil, and Peabody Coal. Undiscovered oil, gas, and especially coal, must remain undiscovered; and these fuels will inevitably soon be simply abandoned anyway, because of their long-term harms. Even if they stop too late, they will stop; they will be forced to, but the question is: How soon? Will it be soon enough?

January 2013 report to institutional investors by the world’s largest bank, HSBC, was titled “Oil and Carbon Revisited: Value at Risk from ‘Unburnable’ Reserves,” and it noted, in its front-page summary, under the heading of “Unburnable Reserves,” that, “The IEA’s World Energy Outlook (2012 edition) estimated that in order to have a 50% chance of limiting the rise in global temperatures to 2ºC [i.e., the amount of heating above which runaway heating would be uncontrollable], only a third of current fossil fuel reserves can be burned before 2050. The balance could be regarded as ‘unburnable’.”

The rest — all of the remaining two-thirds — must stay in the ground, never be burned. That one-third will be reduced to even less if the most global-warming-worst fuels, such as coal, tar-sands oil, and petroleum cokes, are to be part of the mix that will be burned. If any of those super-dirty ones are burned, then the cleaner carbon-based fuels such as regular oils will practically not be able to be burned at all if the world is still to be able to avoid climate-catastrophe.

The amount of all fossil-fuels that will be able to be burned if the world is to have an 80% chance of avoiding uncontrollable climate-catastrophe is only 20%; and that percentage, too, will be even less if the dirtiest carbon-fuels are to be included in the mix.

What this means is that the investors in the dirtiest fuel-sources, such as the Koch brothers, who own more than half of Alberta Canada’s tar sands, will be (and indeed are) fighting the hardest to persuade the public to simply ignore global warming.

The propaganda from the fossil-fuels corporations, and especially from the Koch brothers and the rest of the dirtiest fossil-fuels-producing firms, causes to remain legal the continued exploration to discover yet more oil, gas, and coal, to burn beyond the point-of-no-return for our planet, even though no more such fuels should be discovered and added to the already-existing stockpiles (since much of it will have to remain in the ground). Our society is just too corrupt for it to be illegal yet. It’s like slave-trading was, and like Apartheid in South Africa was, before public pressure caused laws to change and those activities to stop (or at least to become outlawed). But “nonprofits” that invest in such things are adding insults to the already incalculable injuries that those firms cause. This is essentially a publicly subsidized rape of our planet; and it is even more unacceptable, and must therefore be stopped — which Congress can do, and here is how:

The 17 February 2014 issue of the Nation has an article by James Lawrence Powell on “Harvard and Brown Fail on Climate.” Powell, now retired, himself had a storied career, which makes him an ideal authority on this sort of thing. He was the president of Oberlin College, of Franklin and Marshall College, of Reed College, of the Franklin Institute Science Museum, and of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History; and, so, he knows something about nonprofit educational organizations, such as Harvard. He also has an MIT Ph.D. in Geology; and, so, he also knows something about science concerning our planet. Furthermore, as wikipedia’s article about him says, “In 2012, Powell conducted a survey of scientific papers regarding the topic of anthropogenic global warming by searching Web of Science for scientific papers published from 1991 to 2012. He identified 13,950 papers, but only 24 argued that humans were not the primary cause of global warming. He updated his survey in 2014 to include studies published from November 12, 2012 to December 21, 2013, and identified only one study published during this time which argued that global warming was not caused by human activity.” So, he knows the refereed scientific literature on climate change as well as just about anyone does.

That article from him in the Nation says:

“Today, university presidents, and the institutions they lead, confront a moral choice over a crisis that threatens human health and society on a far greater scale than either tobacco or apartheid: climate change. As Elizabeth Kolbert wrote in Field Notes From a Catastrophe, ‘It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.’ In the last few years, students have begun urging their colleges and universities to divest from fossil fuel companies (FFCs), whose products are driving climate change. Two of the first university presidents to respond, [were] Drew Gilpin Faust of Harvard [http://www.harvard.edu/president/fossil-fuels 3 Oct. 2013 had him saying, ‘I do not believe, nor do my colleagues on the Corporation, that university divestment from the fossil fuel industry is warranted or wise. Harvard is an academic institution. It exists to serve an academic mission — to carry out the best possible programs of education and research.’] and Christina Paxson of Brown [http://brown.edu/about/administration/president/2013-10-27-coal-divestment-update 27 Oct. had her saying, ‘The serious, thoughtful and robust discussion in the Corporation covered the full range of perspectives. The conclusion of this discussion is that Brown will not divest from coal.’]”

So: those “nonprofit” institutions obviously would rather put the profits of oil, gas, and coal companies (and their own splendid paychecks derived therefrom), above their responsibilities to the public, or even above the lives that their students will be experiencing in a world of runaway, out-of-control, heating.

Why should all the rest of us continue to pay their taxes?

Are not the stakes now too high for their scam of us to be allowed to continue any further?

I therefore am writing to my Representative in Congress, and to my two U.S. Senators, to urge them to introduce or co-sponsor legislation that would remove tax-exempt status from any organization that invests in firms that explore for added reserves of fossil fuels, especially of the dirtiest ones.

I encourage all readers of the present article to do likewise, and to accompany that letter with a copy of this article, and to tell them that you wholeheartedly agree with it.

Perhaps this way the tax-scam can stop. And perhaps this way the stock-values of those corporations can thus be driven down to where they belong — in the ground — so that, finally, real progress will be able to be made to prevent runaway global warming.

Those tax-exempt universities and colleges have collectively enormous endowment funds (Harvard’s alone is $32.7 billion as of 30 June 2013), and enough of it is invested in firms such as Exxon and Peabody so that finally there will be a really powerful economic pressure that will keep this world under the 2-degree Centigrade, or 5-degree Fahrenheit, limit.

This will be using the combination of democratic public pressure and of the natural economic forces of the markets, to save the world. And that’s something that is of both economic and public interest

Even if universities and colleges don’t deserve their tax-exempt status and never did, the response to this ethical challenge that Harvard (and Brown) offered was so psychopathic as to warrant a clear rejection from the public, because all of us suffer the consequences of it. It is unacceptable.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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  • Charlie Primero

    Global Warming is rip-off to extract money from poor people and transfer it to corporations.

    • dave john

      If that is true Charlie, why does big business spend billions trying to stop awareness of global warming become more widely known and accepted? Why have the vested interests put a climate change denier (Prof Lot) in at the top of IPCC?
      Global warming is still true even if the rich and powerful create schemes to rip folk off. The Mafia makes millions on scams based on real events. Same thing mate…

      • Charlie Primero

        False. Big Business spends Hundreds of billions of dollars promoting the new carbon tax regime because they will benefit, just as they do from war, disease, and poverty.

        Follow the money. Investigate who funds all the “non-profit” foundations and NGOs who produce the media which terrorizes the citizenry with tales of doom.

        This data is not fed to you for a reason. Do the accounting. Ignore the MSM fear campaign and look at the funding.

      • Here’s my problem with AGW. It’s a *theory*. The usefulness of a theory is directly related to it’s predictive ability. How good is it?

        Not good at all. In fact, it’s predictive ability is horrible:


        Which should make us wonder why it keeps getting promoted, but that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.

        • cettel

          “It’s [sp] predictive ability” won’t be able to be evaluated until about a thousand years from now, because what it “predicts” is that with the existing carbon load already in the atmosphere, the load cannot go much higher without there being an acceleration of the global temperature-rise that had started at around the year 1880 when fossil fuels started being burned profusely. By that time, our distant descendants will be living in hell if living at all.

          Climate is not weather; you confuse global warming with weather forecasts. It’s not a weather forecast. However, as this

          makes clear, more than 97% of the 11,000+ articles that have been published in the climatological scientific literature that discuss whether or not the climate is heating up and whether or not this is as a result of the burning of fossil fuels, say yes to both questions.
          If you are one of the under 3% of scientists who disagree, then you’re not necessarily foolish for doing so. However, if you are not one of those under-3% of scientists, …

    • cettel

      The biggest victims of global warming are the countries near the equator (within 2,500 miles of it), which already are the hottest and poorest; their average per-capita annual incomes are less than 10% of those of the countries like ours, that are farther from the equator. You have everything exactly upside-down.

  • dave john

    I fully agree with your arguments Eric – stop the tax scam.

  • colinjames71

    I’m all for the concept, but not on the grounds of just global warming, because it isn’t settled science. Ocean acidification, pollution, ecological devastation, habitat destruction, the damaging geopolitics odd oil and gas, the need to decentralize and diversify energy production, the damaging economics of the current system, health effects of burning coal, especially, and other reasons. The peer review process is skewed and that’s a big problem with citing those paper-numbers, the polarizing nature of the debate over AGW will limit the campaign to AGW believers-only, and while yes the fossil fuel industry puts out bad science and transparent propaganda, there’s a lot more scientists who challenge AGW then are given credit for. They just can’t get published, or get funding. in the first place. I’m all for getting off fossil fuels, I’m all for this measure, I’m just saying it will fail, it will be attacked, it will cause a counter-attack, if it relies only on the AGW leg of the argument.

    • Stan Man

      “because it isn’t settled science” Can’t argue with stupid.

      • colinjames71

        Foolish is thinking we have the workings of the climate all figured out. It just isn’t settled science, and there’s more scientists then you think NOT funded by fossil fuel companies that’ll tell you that. Beyond the completely unwarranted ad hominem attack, to just ignore everything else I said- like agreeing with the proposal, and also what I’ve said here repeatedly- that there’s 500 other reasons to get off fossil fuels that just about everyone can agree upon- makes you look like a bunch of pretentious dicks. There’s no cause for that. What I’m saying is- the focus almost purely on the climate completely devalues the very settled science of ocean acidification, the dangers of fracking and deep-ocean drilling, etc., ad nauseum, so almost all those who don’t believe in climate change pretty much are for the endless use of fossil fuels because so little attention is paid to those other areas. It’s a polarizing debate. The partisan divide doesn’t help either. A lot of that is due to really bad science and propaganda from Big Oil and Gas. I’m not hostile to believers in AGW, I was one of them. I’ve come across information that has caused me to re-assess that position. I’m not sure anymore. I’m not saying climate change ISN’T happening, it’s just that there’s a hell of a lot we still have yet to learn about the hows and the whys, so go ahead, think you know it all and insult anyone who disagrees. Gimme a f*cking break.

    • cettel

      By this time only ignoramuses are saying such things as that global warming isn’t “settled science,” because this
      is old news well-publicized by now and makes clear to any rational person that global warming and its human causation are “settled science” if anything is.

      I hope that no one who reads comments here will have any respect for people who claim that it’s not “settled science,” because that position is beyond foolish, at this stage — as that link makes unequivocally clear.

  • Sal Cappiola

    Agree with the title 100%. This would include defense contractors like the Henry Jackson Foundation , MITRE. Also, hundreds of thousands of non-profits that appear to be advocates for causes such as consumer rights, immigrant rights, cancer prevention or any other socially responsible theme — only to find that their mission is the exact opposite of what they advertise to be! So many of these organizations serve in a capacity best described as a front! Needless to say however, the rich, Wall Street, and big oil need to be tax-terrorized relentlessly. They are responsible for decades of propaganda and extreme white conservatism that has served corporate interests more effectively than any amount of lobbying ever could. These right-cons are unexpected allies of big banks, big oil and war profiteers.

  • EH

    Non-profits should be eliminated because they are often vehicles for preserving great wealth or fronts for some other activity. Instead, we could simply not tax income from donations (do we now?) and allow all businesses to deduct charitable contributions in excess of donations at 100%. This wouldn’t harm real charities but would flush out the wolves in sheep’s clothing. The increased tax revenues might be enough to offset the death of the estate tax.

    • cettel

      Not to tax income from donations would mean eliminating the gifts and estate taxes, which, even as-is don’t exist at the federal level except for the largest 1.4% of estates, those above $5 million in size (and the taxation-rates have been reduced even on those); heirs of all others are already receiving gifts and estates tax-free except for states that tax them.

      You are proposing to shift 100% of the burden of taxation onto earned income and the general public and away from the aristocracy, especially their heirs.

      If you want an even more skewed wealth-distribution, your proposal makes sense.

      • EH

        I meant charitable donations to business, not gifts or bequests. And since tax-exempt foundations are often chartered for the express purpose of avoiding the estate tax, I’m actually suggesting shifting the burden onto accumulated wealth.

  • MuseFuse

    I agree that we need to invest in and implement alternative sources of energy and that pollution is bad. But, the alleged anthropogenic cause of climate change or what used to be called “global warming” until scientific data proved that the earth was not warming as a result of CO2 emissions, is a product politics and an agenda of the globalist-internationalist elitists. The climate of earth is being affected by solar activity, a geo-magnetic polar shifting of the north and south poles and aerosol spraying, known as “chemtrailing”.

    This concern for the biosphere and the health of the planet should focus more on stopping this Geoengineering of the planet (aerosol spraying) the spraying from Jet-airplanes of barium, nano aluminum-coated fiberglass [known as CHAFF], radioactive thorium, cadmium, chromium, nickel, desiccated blood, mold spores, yellow fungal mycotoxins, ethylene dibromide, and polymer fibers.

    This spraying is having a dramatic negative effect on the ph of the soil, plant life, insects, animals and human beings.


    What in the World Are They Spraying? (Full Length)

  • MuseFuse

    I wonder how the author of this “progressive” screed who employs the pseudo-science of anthropogenic cause and effect of climate change in order to vilify fossil fuels and oil companies feels about the participation of Harvard and other Colleges and Universities in the United States participation in the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction) of Israel?

  • Murderville

    Consider this:

    The City of Flint & Detroit are run by a non-profit 501c4 #NERDFUND (the people can’t vote in local elections or have city council)

    Amway & Black-water have Non-Profit “Action” 501c3 & 4 corps.

    They guy running Michigan will be Jeb Bush’s running mate in 2016.

  • Murderville