Prominent Climate Experts, Alumni Urge MIT To Divest From Fossil Fuels


Nearly three dozen well-known climate scientists, advocates, and alumni have called on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to heed its own experts’ advice and divest from carbon-intensive fossil fuel companies. I’m an alum, and I joined James Hansen, Michael Mann, and many others in signing this open letter to MIT President L. Rafael Reif.

The university has been wrestling with what to do about climate change for a while now. Although it is one of the leading centers of science and technology in the world — home to considerable expertise about climate science and its solutions — the university has no greenhouse gas target or any formal position on a host of key climate issues including divestment.

Indeed, way back in 2009, MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change clearly and powerfully spelled out the dangerous gamble humanity has been taking through its climate inaction — with its “Greenhouse Gamble™ wheels” (click here if you want to spin the wheels):

MIT wheels

Humanity’s Choice (via MIT): Inaction (“No Policy”) eliminates most of the uncertainty about whether future warming will be catastrophic. Aggressive emissions reductions greatly improves humanity’s chances.

The open letter notes that “the Climate Change Conversation committee that you set up, after extensive interaction with students, faculty, and outside experts, has recommended divestment from carbon-intensive fossil fuel companies.” The committee’s excellent report from June, “MIT and the Climate Challenge” opens bluntly:

Humanity has a limited window of opportunity to avert the most catastrophic risks of climate change.

The report makes clear MIT has a unique responsibility to “remain true to its mission, contribute to solving humanity’s greatest current challenge, and ultimately ensure it is on the right side of history.”

Significantly, the committee called on MIT to “take an active role in both countering disinformation and disseminating accurate information on climate change as part of its mission in service to the nation and the world.” Hear! Hear! The report notes that, “disinformation and misinformation are rampant in the climate arena and have strongly contributed to the gap between public perception and professional assessment of the looming threats.”

The committee also called on MIT to “establish a campus carbon price.” It would be incorporated into “planning capital and operational decisions.”

On the matter of divestment, the committee could not come up with unanimous agreement on a policy, but explained:

There is, however, support by a (three‑quarter) majority of the committee for targeted divestment from companies whose operations are heavily focused on the exploration for and/or extraction of the fossil fuels that are least compatible with mitigating climate change, for example, coal and tar sands.

Dozens of leading MIT faculty urged full divestment in their own open letter from June. As the faculty signers noted, “By continuing to invest in these [fossil fuel] companies, we knowingly endorse efforts to undermine MIT’s commitment to scientific analysis and practical action for the betterment of humankind.”

Of course, the price of coal company stocks has already collapsed. The two key questions are 1) when will the smart money realize the price of oil company stocks are inflated by petroleum reserves that will never be tapped and 2) is MIT’s endowment part of the smart money or not?