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Fossil Fuels

Published on September 17th, 2015 | by Joshua S Hill


MIT Under Mounting Pressure To Divest From Fossil Fuels

September 17th, 2015 by  

An open letter signed by 33 hugely-prominent names has called on MIT to divest fossil fuel investments from its $12.4 billion endowment.

Climatologist James Hansen, actor Mark Ruffalo, MIT Professor Noam Chomsky, and Rockefeller Brothers Fund President Stephen Heintz are among the 33 names signed to the open letter, which urges “the world’s foremost citadel of science” to divest from fossil fuels.

“We write — as interested scientists, alumni, and citizens — to ask that you cap off MIT’s exemplary study into fossil fuel divestment by committing the university to selling its stock in fossil fuel companies as part of a multi-faceted climate action plan,” they write, which itself follows recommendations made by the MIT President’s own Climate Change Conversation committee to divest from coal, tar sands, and potentially from climate-denying corporations.

“Divestment is not only financially prudent but also politically effective, scientifically consistent, and morally right,” write the authors of the letter, whose signatories include 350.org founder Bill McKibben, author and climate advisor to the Pope Naomi Klein, science broadcaster David Suzuki, Pulitzer Prize winner and MacArthur ‘Genius’ Fellow MIT Professor Junot Díaz, Nobel Laureate and former MIT psychiatrist Eric Chivian, and Zipcar founder and MIT alumna Robin Chase.

The letter, addressed to MIT President Rafael Reif, who is serving as the 17th President of MIT since July 2012, is in no way hesitant to label the issue as “the singular great issue of our time,” and that MIT has “an opportunity … to provide great leadership by divesting the Institute’s endowment from fossil fuels as part of a comprehensive climate action plan.”

These 33 signatories are not the only ones calling for MIT to take a stand on climate change by divesting, however. Over 3,000 MIT community members, including students, undergrads, and 43% of the Class of 2017, signed a petition “telling MIT to take the lead against climate change by divesting from the fossil fuel industry.” 83 members of the MIT faculty wrote their own open letter, as did a group of 29 student groups.

And in a striking display, the Cambridge City Council, of Massachusetts, passed resolution R-10 officially “commending MIT’s Presidential Advisory Committee on Climate Change on their bold endorsement of divestment.”

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About the Author

I’m a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we’re pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket!

I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at about.me for more.

  • hornfeld

    MIT has been one of the three leading R&D centers in the US and among the 10 leading world centers for the science and engineering needed for fusion energy (FE) to achieve reality. Its FE budget from the US Department of Energy is miniscule, but despite that the world FE community depends on MIT’s creative approaches to bring the well-established set of technologies together to make FE a reality in the next decade or less. Fusion is no longer the “energy of tomorrow and always will be”; it is achievable, pretty much now, and needs to be recognized and treated with the respect it deserves.

  • Ross

    They must have lost a fortune already if they haven’t been quietly dumping FF shares for a long time.

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  • Harry Johnson

    No one wants to be the last group divesting from dead-end fossil fuel. After the tipping point, it will be way too late.

  • Dag Johansen

    Well that will be quite the fight. MIT also gets huge grants from fossil fuel industries for scientific research. And The Koch Brothers (well at least one of them) are Alumni that donate a lot to MIT.

  • JamesWimberley

    The advisory committee recommended divesting from coal and tar sands companies (after their shares have tanked). The campus campaign asks for divestment from all fossil fuel. MIT will probably follow Stanford in taking the first cautious step. There will be a long fight over the second.

    • Daniel Rothenberg

      Hi James,

      Actually, the MITCCC Committee did *not* recommend divesting from coil and tar sands. The Report noted that a 3/4 majority of the committee supported such action (while total divestment was flatly rejected). The actual recommendation given by the committee is that “… MIT should exercise more ethical oversight of its investments and do so in a transparent and community-backed manner, and that divestment of particular businesses may be one outcome of such oversight (see the suggestion of an Ethics Advisory Council …)”

      So the recommendation isn’t divestment. It’s the establishment of a formal mechanism which could evaluate whether divestment is the right action **for MIT**. That’s something that has been lost in this discourse; divestment may not be the most effective thing that the world’s greatest research institute – which has very strong academic ties to industry, including oil and fossil fuels – even if it is a key strategy for other stakeholders.

  • Marion Meads

    For the University of California, the reason is plainly simple. It is not because of student protesting fossil fuels or the threat of lawsuits, but simply put, fossil fuel stock shares don’t hold water anymore.


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