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For universities and colleges, there is no clear right or wrong choice on fossil fuel divestment, despite what…

For universities and colleges, there is no clear right or wrong choice on fossil fuel divestment, despite what activists might insist. Each institution must weigh and consider its own unique constituencies and the strategies by which it can make the biggest difference on climate change.

Originally shared by Gaythia Weis

MIT and Fossil Fuel Corporations:  Engagement or Pandering?

Calls to divest from Fossil Fuel stocks are simplistic, because simply closing ones eyes, ears and nose to these corporate entities does nothing to reduce their power, and does nothing to leverage University knowledge and other assets to further change.  On the other hand, alliances with Fossil Fuel corporations, which are not done with an honest openness and true exchange on the part of both sides, are simply, in my opinion, greed pandering to big money.

I think that the key questions to ask come from this Guardian article:

““MIT seeks to convene key players with the goal of helping drive significant progress for the world. There is a great deal to do and we are eager to get started.” “

“Its plan calls for eight new “low-carbon energy centers” that will work with companies to develop technologies focusing on solar energy, nuclear fusion, energy storage and other initiatives. Each center will seek about $8m in annual funding over five years, totaling more than $300m. “

Who are the “key players” that MIT will partnership with, and by so doing, use their knowledge base to promote?  By seeking substantial funding for these centers, to whom will MIT be beholden?

In my opinion, the answers to these questions will serve to shape, in substantial measure, how US energy policy proceeds.  Which, I sadly believe, will mean that the trajectory may be more in the direction of greatest available funding than best available science.

It seems to me that this deserves deeper discussion as to what constitutes engagement.  This needs to be a two way partnership.  And when talking about corporations, it needs to be recognized that these institutions are financial in nature, and it is largely money that does the talking.

In the first place, universities are all about the expansion and transfer of knowledge.  Fossil fuel companies, on the other hand, are now known not only to have hidden knowledge which they had collected regarding climate change, but also to have deliberately acted to mislead the public to form false conclusions. Conclusions that aided in these corporations to continuing business as usual, to the serious detriment of the planet.  Step one for a knowledge institution would be to join in demands for full release of these climate studies, and for prosecution of the executives involved who may have made or caused their corporations to take actions to make false statements to the public.

Furthermore, large endowment Universities have funds that actually economically position themselves comparable to hedge funds operators.  Monies in a similar situation, such as the California Retirement Fund, CalPers, has acted, at least at times, with the knowledge that how they chose to invest,or not to invest, has great influence on societal outcomes.

Here, as I see it, MIT seems unwilling to risk its own wealth as leverage to further change, but rather is acting as essentially a junior partner (money wise) to even greater wealth, in an effort to collect even more wealth for themselves.  

Of course we want to promote research into breakthrough energy technologies.  But these need to be truly innovative, and not tied to propping up the very corporations that have brought us to this potentially disastrous climate brink.   New technology is needed, but to be used effectively, it also needs to be placed in new hands.

The problem for academic research institutions is lack of adequate funding.  Universities need more funding such as that through established institutions, such as the National Science Foundation, that are peer reviewed and not fraught with corporate conflict of interest.

Corporations, by keeping much of their wealth offshore, deplete our Federal coffers.  At the same time they have long relied on US government research for much of the basic research underlying the scientific and technological foundations of their industry.  The basic research into hydraulic fracturing, which was done by the United States Geological Survey is a case in point.

If MIT wants to be an innovative Climate Change leader, they need to ensure that they are acting in partnership with others who are themselves acting in good faith.


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  1. I see no leadership innovating change away from fossil fuel..yet world wars have been fought when oil comes into shortage. We can and must change by adding diversity. Windmills near large water are a step in right direction…congress every four years puts funds into alternate energy..colleges university can easier choose funding from these grants. Change is slow but my opinion is we must change our politicians first, then work strides into climate concerns…further the world is undergoing rapid change…we can first concentrate on weather and wholesale changes in our atmosphere.


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