Faculty urged to weigh in on climate change, divestment

With the MIT Climate Change Conversation Committee due to report findings within the next month — and expected to recommend whether MIT should divest — Vice President of Research Maria T. Zuber has called on faculty members to join the dialogue.

“This is where science ends and values begin,” Zuber wrote, calling faculty to “think carefully about the consequences of action and inaction” on climate change.

“We can fully expect our students to come out in force and let us know what they think,” she wrote in the latest Faculty Newsletter, “but on this issue, we have heard from a small fraction of MIT’s 1,000-plus faculty so far.”

A petition launched by student group Fossil Free MIT calling for the institute to divest from fossil fuels has garnered 3,000 signatures and the administration’s attention. “The sheer quantity of signatures tells us that this issue merits thoughtful discussion,” Zuber said.

“There should be no expectation on your part that an outcome that is acceptable to you will emerge in the absence of your input,” she wrote to the faculty.

Alexander H. Slocum, professor of mechanical engineering, wrote that it would be “hypocritical” for faculty to sign the petition until MIT “divests from using fossil fuels.”

“Divestiture would be an act of ballistic podiatry followed by a round of Abbe Roulette,” Slocum wrote.

Slocum emphasized that fossil fuel companies which contribute to the MIT Energy Initiative have funded research on renewable energy.

“As a recipient of funds from MITei, my research into renewables has been able to flourish before it became fashionable to work in renewable,” Slocum wrote. “Indeed, MITei funded my wild renewable ideas at a time when DoE and NSF would not.”

Charles F. Harvey, professor of civil and environmental engineering, rebutted Slocum’s claim.

“What does it mean if we work during the day to reduce MIT’s emissions, while our investments work at night to extract fossil fuels?”

Harvey wrote that investment in fossil fuels is “a bet on the future success of coal, oil, and gas [and] against the success of competing non-fossil sources of energy.” This strategy “is not a style of real leadership that conveys a clear message about the threat of anthropogenic climate change to human welfare,” he said.

“The fact that we are working on one good thing (reducing MIT’s emissions) does not preclude us from doing another good thing (divesting from fossil fuel companies),” Harvey wrote. “We can do better; we can do both.”

Freedom about 9 years ago

You don't solve climate change with YOLO petitions. This resembles an insane asylum. If MIT students and professors act like this, MIT deserves the penalty, I suppose.

RAM about 9 years ago

All the claims and counterclaims about reality are beside the point. MIT has no standing to order society around. Its researchers should seek truth in their own ways and make the findings public.

Freedom about 9 years ago

At this point the university system should be understood as an enemy combatant brainwashing people into Communism, so I'm coming around to the idea that we should let MIT cannibalize itself with stuff like this. In addition to this YOLO petition, can we also listen to calls that colleges stop discriminating against people with criminal convictions, as advocated by the Princeton Spear? Gotta mix it with some more felons in school. Also, listen to all the calls for more censorship to keep the students as stupid as possible, thanks (looks like the Tech is doing this already by banning my e-mail address; good job guys). Can we also do more affirmative action and grade inflation, please? Appreciate it.

Arthur about 9 years ago

Nature editorial board comes out against university divestment of fossil fuels. (They support the awareness building but realize the real trade-offs of different ways to act on climate)

Also see:

Finally, I hope MIT learns some lessons from Brown:

or Yale:

Pete about 9 years ago

I find it interesting in reading the Yale proposal that one likely result of there internal carbon tax money scheme will be to cut funding to those buildings and departments that have more students and activities going on (which result in increasing the amount of energy used for the building/department) and increase funding for those buildings/departments that have fewer students and activity due to the decreased level of energy use.

It really seems like a feelgood exercise and the protests about it being revenue neutral and not costing anything are bunk since some folks at the college will have to spend time gathering all the data and making the determination of who wins and who loses. In a zero sum game that they propose, there are no winners without having losers at the same time. So even if you cut your emissions by 5 and the other building hits 10, you end up the loser and having to subsidize the one with 10.

They state there will no exclusions up front, but then later go on to list a whole bunch of buildings that will be considered exempt from the process. Silly shell game.

Pete about 9 years ago

As to this article I must say I have to agree with Prof Slocum. I wonder if anyone has compiled the information about how much funding MIT actually receives from those firms, and what would then happen to all the research and RA's and TA's supported by that funding if the Shell's of the world decide to stop putting their money where it appears they are not welcome?

Concerned alum about 9 years ago

Twenty years from now, we will either still be in the fight, or wondering how we possibly could have been bought off by fossil fuel company bribes (but a pittance of their profits).

If Goering had offered millions to MIT in 1937 to support "good"research, I wonder how MIT would have responded.

Is there no room for wisdom and morality in the Infinite Corridor?

Freedom about 9 years ago

7- Sorry, that BS won't fly here in the comments. There are still a few men around here who won't tolerate that.

Be assured, though, that this is not an attack. You don't have to cook up nonsense constantly to be virtuous and dignified. There's no point! Get serious, 7.

Daniel about 9 years ago

Concerned alum,

Invoking Godwin's Law is entirely unpersuasive to those of us who worry about side effects and the political ramifications of divestment - especially if they impact MIT's ability to engage with climate change in other ways. That's particularly the case when we worrywarts are actively involved in global change research, both in the science and policy realm.

Freedom about 9 years ago

MIT's dominant conflict with global warming actually cuts the other way: MIT accepts far, far more funding from liberal federal government monopolies (which profit from increased regulation) than from conservative oil companies (which, presumably, profit from reduced regulation). This is why colleges tend to be liberal. This entire petition is kind of funny when you think about it: the college has become so liberal that they only want to accept funding from liberal institutions.

Freedom about 9 years ago

The sins of the past:

We're not going to invest in black people, because science (correctly) shows that they are more likely to be violent criminals. (And at the same time, we'll use them as janitors and soldiers.)

The sins of the present:

We're not going to invest in fossil fuels, because science (correctly) shows the world is getting slightly warmer and international CO2 emissions are increasing. (And at the same time, we'll turn on the AC, the heater and travel to Europe.)

Daniel about 9 years ago


If there's anything less persuasive than an invocation of Godwin's Law, it's petty partisan political trolling.

Freedom about 9 years ago

Daniel, I'm not a very persuasive writer generally and I admit my metaphor isn't the best, but in both cases illustrated in 11, we see a ham-handed attempt to punish people's livelihoods based on superficial characteristics.

Here's the left-wing (and also often right-wing) logic: "Ew, you work for X! X is dirty! I will now punish you!"

Some contemporary examples of this logic:

Hipsters: "Ew, the local police uses force against violent, drugged up felons! Fuck the police! Need more riots!"

Feminists: "Ew, engineers in Silicon Valley tend to be males! Fuck Silicon Valley! Need more diversity!'

Single suburban moms: "Ew, manufacturing is so dirty and ugly and low status! Fuck manufacturing! More taxes and green energy subsidies!"

College students: "Ew, our college's portfolio includes investments in oil companies! Fuck oil companies! Let's divest guys!"

Now, I'm not generally opposed to this logic. I often like discrimination and inequality. But if we look deeper we see hypocrisy:

Hipsters: Hipsters tend to physically weak and generally do not own guns. They're attacking the people (the police) who protect them and let them exist safely!

Feminists: Feminists love using Google, Facebook and Macbooks, which they often get for free from the people they marry. Without men and without meritocratic discrimination, Apple, Microsoft and Google wouldn't exist-- it has always been true throughout history that males have invented the most of the stuff.

Single suburban moms: Democrats are shipping manufacturing overseas, which sounds all nice, but the reason moms are able to live in cozy suburbs is due to the capital and innovation that dirty industry has created in the US.

College students: College students will never stop going on expensive trips and turning up the heating in the winter. The celebrities fighting global warming will often ride private jets, which consume lots of carbon dioxide.

But what's wrong with hypocrisy? The problem I see is unsustainability (turning the US into a third world country). One solution is labor camps for leftists.

Anyway, Daniel, I'm not attacking you and I'm glad that 11 doesn't persuade or confuse you. You seem sane and I would probably support you being a king with absolute power to rule over everyone in America. Things would probably be a whole lot better than they are now.

Freedom about 9 years ago

Oh, and 10 is not troll. The rightist military-industrial complex is real (they profit from war), and the USG-Harvard complex is a real too (they stir up feminism and all that stuff). The latter is more powerful and helped cause global warming hysteria.

MensetManus about 9 years ago

I Think Prof. Harvey should resign his MIT tenured faculty


and work for Environmental Defense Fund or run for

political office since it is clear that is where his passion lies.

See the book "Save the World on your own time" by

Stanley Fish.