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.”