Born in Aspen, Colorado on July 18, 1960, Hal Harvey earned a BS degree in engineering from Stanford University in 1982, and an MS in that same field two years later. In 1979 he became vice president of the New-Land Foundation, where he later served as president. From 1979-84, Harvey and his brother owned and operated the Aspen-based Harvey Construction Company, which built solar houses in Colorado.
In 1986 Harvey became a board-of-directors member with the Ploughshares Fund. He was also the program director of the Rocky Mountain Institute in Snowmass, Colorado, from 1986-88. And in 1989 he joined the Joyce Mertz-Gilmore Foundation's board of directors.
Harvey established the Energy Foundation in 1991 and served as its president for the next 11 years. In the 1990s as well, he was appointed to energy panels by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
From 2002-08, Harvey directed the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation's Environment Program. In 2005 he was a Rhodes Chair and Lecturer in Public Policy at Arizona State University. And in January 2008 he established the Climateworks Foundation, serving as its CEO until December 2011.
Since 2012, Harvey has been the CEO of the San Francisco-based energy and environmental policy firm, Energy Innovation; a visiting scholar with the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washinton, DC; vice chairman of the Mercator Climate Center's Scientific Advisory Board; and a senior fellow (for Energy and the Environment) at the Paulson Institute.
In addition to the foregoing accomplishments, Harvey also has been the board chairman of MB Financial Corporation, a multi-billion-dollar Chicago bank holding company. Moreover, he has published two books on energy and national security issues.
Over the years, Harvey's perspectives on military and defense matters have been particularly noteworthy. In 1989 he collaborated with Michael Shuman and Daniel Arbess to co-author an article titled “Alternative Security,” which advocated a policy of “non-provocative defense” as a means by which all countries could “reduce military tensions and budgets.” Asserting that “it is insecurity that drives nations to accumulate arms and seriously consider launching their missiles,” the authors argued that “all security policies should aim to increase the security of other nations, including our adversaries -- a concept sometimes called 'common security' ....” Toward that end, it would be vital to “restructure U.S. military capabilities so that they are unambiguously defensive, and at the same time to persuade other nations to do likewise.” For example, the authors proposed that governments worldwide should “demonstrate [their] defensive intentions” by producing and deploying only short-range (as opposed to long-range) anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, and by dispensing with “large battleships or weapons-support facilities like airfields, [which] invite preemptive attack.”
Harvey and his co-authors further advocated a strategy called “civilian-based defense,” which they described as follows: “Populations would be trained to make their country ungovernable in the face of an attack. They would be taught, for example, how to resist military occupation (or, for that matter, domestic tyranny) through strikes, boycotts, noncooperation, and obstruction which would make takeover a more costly goal for any attacker.... Frontal barriers would stop or slow advancing forces. Forces breaking through would then face techno-commando units. Then enemy occupiers would have to cope with civilian-based defense units.”
Lamenting that the United States “spends roughly twenty-one times more on military defense and military foreign assistance than on all nonmilitary international programs put together,” Harvey, Shuman, and Arbess said that a more effective approach to military spending “would focus on causes, not symptoms ... [and would] give greater priority to eliminating the economic and political roots of conflict through non-provocative forms of persuasion and cooperation.”
While working with the Hewlett Foundation in 2007, Harvey served on the steering committee that helped produce Design to Win: Philanthropy's Role in the Fight Against Global Warming, a report claiming that “catastrophic climate change … will be unavoidable if we don’t prevent a massive 'lock-in' of emissions from new coal-fired power plants, long-lived industrial infrastructure, inefficient buildings, car-centric cities, and irreversible deforestation.” Advocating the imposition of carbon taxes and the implementation of a cap-and-trade system, the report urged philanthropists not only to “support existing NGOs” that shared these priorities, but also to “cultivate new organizations where necessary.”
Design to Win became the basis on which the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Energy Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation subsequently justified massive expenditures to fund the creation of the Climateworks Foundation, where Harvey was named as CEO. Climateworks in turn supported other organizations that were either founded or supported by Harvey. For example, Climateworks gave money to: (a) the Energy Foundation, which was established by Harvey; (b) the China Sustainable Energy Program,which was heavily funded by the Packard, Hewlett, and Energy Foundations; and (c) the European Climate Foundation, which was a sister program to the China Sustainable Energy Program and received funding from SeaChange.org, which in turn had the same San Francisco office address as the China Sustainable Energy Program. As one blogger noted in 2011: “The conflicts-of-interest of one person significantly contributing to a report, which becomes the basis for funding a charity headed by the same person, which then donates significantly to different agencies started by the same person are … obvious.”
In 2009, Hal Harvey and Paul Brest co-authored Money Well Spent, a handbook on strategic philanthropy.
In 2016 the Heinz Family Foundation presented Harvey with its annual Heinz Award in the Environment, in honor of Harvey's “strategic leadership in energy policy,” his “results-driven solutions to dramatically reduce carbon emissions and energy waste worldwide,” and his efforts to “stem the tide of global climate change.” Prior to receiving this award, Harvey had spent time as a member of the Heinz Endowments' Environment Committee, a board member of the Heinz Awards, and a chairman of the Heinz Awards' Environment Jury.