Last week at MIT, the university gathered experts to hold a debate on whether it should divest from fossil fuel companies, which moderator Tony Cortese of the Intentional Endowments Network called “a complex question.”
Teams on both sides of the issue debated at Kresge Auditorium on Thursday, with each team including an MIT faculty member, a professor from another institution and an executive from an investment firm.
Here are some of the key quotes, via an MIT write-up of the event.
In favor of divestment:
• John Sterman, computer studies professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management: MIT divestment is “not only right, it is vital to support the policies that are needed to prevent potentially catastrophic climate change. Further, divestment is necessary to preserving the integrity of MIT and our commitment to the scientific method.” Fossil-fuel companies “continue to fund deniers, undermine the science, confuse the public, and delay action — actions antithetical to the values of MIT. The integrity of the Institute is at stake. … We cannot say that we care about climate change while we invest in an industry that threatens our prosperity, our health, and our lives.”
• Naomi Oreskes, a professor of the history of science at Harvard University: Even if divestment is a symbolic action, “Symbols matter, because they signal our intent, and they invite other people to join in our intent.”
In opposition to divestment:
• Timothy Smith, director of shareholder engagement at Walden Asset Management: Climate change is a threat, but “I don’t think that automatically leads to only one conclusion — the sale of stock being the approach that you must take.”
• Frank Wolak, professor of economics at Stanford University: “Divestiture does nothing to address [the fossil fuels demand] problem. As long as demand is still there for the fossil fuels, the greenhouse-gas emissions will exist, regardless of who owns the assets.”
MIT is holding a series of forums on climate change this spring, with this event being the fourth. The Committee on the MIT Climate Change Conversation is producing a report of possible actions for the MIT administration by the end of the academic year, which will include feedback from the forums.