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?
A 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.