Thursday, September 24, 2015

MIT Gets a Fossil Fuel Divestment Letter from Scientists and Advocates

On September 16, 2015, 33 prominent climate scientists and advocates joined those who are calling for MIT to heed its own committee’s advice to divest from fossil fuels as part of a multi-faceted climate action plan. See their open letter below.

Dear President Reif,

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.

As you know, 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. Were MIT to take this step, it would join educational institutions including Stanford University, Oxford University, Australian National University, and the University of Washington, organizations like the World Council of Churches, AXA Insurance Company, and Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, and philanthropies like the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. As they and many others have demonstrated, divestment is not only financially prudent but also politically effective, scientifically consistent, and morally right.

Nothing is holding back global action against climate change more than a lack of political will. The will, for example, to end trillions of dollars of fossil fuel subsidies that each year undermine simultaneous attempts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. And the will to put a price on carbon to accelerate the transition to clean energy technologies, many of them pioneered at 77 Massachusetts Avenue. Divestment, with its proven theory of change for building social and political momentum, can help build that will.

We ask that MIT add its own special weight to this effort. As the world’s foremost citadel of science, the Institute is uniquely poised to remind policymakers of the basic dilemma we face: to limit dangerous global warming, at least two-thirds of the world’s carbon reserves need to stay underground. Yet the business plans of fossil fuel companies call for precisely the opposite, committing hundreds of billions of dollars every year to looking for more.

It is a sad twist of fate that after two illustrious centuries, the hydrocarbons that have underpinned so much of humanity’s progress now threaten to undo it. The inertia of our infrastructure and the irreversibility of climate change mean that our energy future must accelerate away from its past, and engineers at MIT and around the world are rising to this challenge. By re-aligning the Institute’s investments with this mission, MIT can set the course for future progress, and inspire both policymakers and industry to follow.

Regrettably, in the face of overwhelming scientific consensus, many in the fossil fuel industry continue to sow doubt about climate science1,2,3 and oppose constructive policy change. For this reason, your committee concluded that MIT has a unique obligation to stand up for science by also divesting from those who undermine the principles of scientific inquiry and thereby threaten MIT’s own integrity.

Over the years, MIT’s global leadership has been built around key “moments of decision”. The singular great issue of our time is climate change, and with it, an opportunity for you to provide great leadership by divesting the Institute’s endowment from fossil fuels as part of a comprehensive climate action plan. In the coming weeks, as your administration formulates its strategy for tackling climate change, we will join your students, staff, faculty, and alumni in the Climate Countdown to MIT’s next great moment of decision.

Thank you for your consideration.


James G. Anderson
Philip Weld Professor
Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, Harvard University

Kevin Anderson
Professor of Energy and Climate Change, University of Manchester
Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research

John Broome, Ph.D. ’72
Emeritus White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy, University of Oxford
Visiting Professor, Stanford University
Lead Author, Working Group III Contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report

Robin Chase, S.M. ’86
Co-founder and former CEO, Zipcar

Leland Cheung
City Councilor for the City of Cambridge

Eric Chivian
Founder and Director Emeritus, Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School
Shared 1985 Nobel Peace Prize for co-founding International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War

Noam Chomsky
Institute Professor (retired)
Department of Linguistics & Philosophy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Joseph A. Curtatone
Mayor of Somerville, Massachusetts

Junot Díaz
Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Pulitzer Prize winner and 2012 MacArthur Fellow

Josh Fox Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker
Board of Directors, The Solutions Project

Peter Frumhoff
Director of Science & Policy, Union of Concerned Scientists

Don Gould
Trustee, Pitzer College
President, Gould Asset Management LLC

James Hansen
Adjunct Professor, Columbia University Earth Institute
Former Director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

Stephen Heintz
President, Rockefeller Brothers Fund

Wael Hmaidan
Executive Director, Climate Action Network – International

Kenneth Kimmell
President, Union of Concerned Scientists

Naomi Klein
Journalist and author
Climate change advisor to Pope Francis

Michael E. Mann
Distinguished Professor and Director of the Earth System Science Center, The Pennsylvania State University

Bob Massie
Former president, New Economy Coalition

Marc McGovern
City Councilor for the City of Cambridge

Bill McKibben

Naomi Oreskes
Professor of the History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth & Planetary Sciences, Harvard University

Joseph Romm, B.S. ’82, Ph.D. ’87
Founding Editor,

Mark Ruffalo
Actor and producer
Founder, Water Defense
Board of Directors, The Solutions Project

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, C.B.E.
Professor for Theoretical Physics, University of Potsdam
Founding Director, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
Chair, German Advisory Council on Global Change
Member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences
Climate science advisor to Pope Francis

Denise Simmons
City Councilor for the City of Cambridge
Former Mayor of Cambridge

Peter Singer, A.C.
Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics, University Center for Human Values, Princeton University

Michael Sonnenfeldt, S.M. ’78
Founder and Chairman, TIGER 21
Chairman, Carmanah Technologies Ltd
Board Member, Earthjustice

Rhea Suh
President, Natural Resources Defense Council

David Suzuki, C.C., O.B.C.
Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia
Science broadcaster and environmental activist
Co-Founder of the David Suzuki Foundation

David Turnbull
Campaigns Director, Oil Change International
Former Executive Director, Climate Action Network – International

Kelsey Wirth
Founder and Chair, Mothers Out Front

Timothy E. Wirth
U.S. Senate, Colorado (Ret.)
Vice Chairman and President Emeritus, The United Nations Foundation


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