Metro

MIT won’t divest from fossil-fuel firms

In this April 22, 2007 file photo, a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reads outside a building at the Cambridge, Mass. campus

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

In this April 22, 2007 file photo, a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reads outside a building at the Cambridge, Mass. campus

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology will not shed its investments in fossil fuel companies despite calls from some students, faculty, and activists, the college said Wednesday in announcing a five-year campus blueprint to confront climate change.

President L. Rafael Reif, in a phone call with reporters, said the university has determined that maintaining ties with oil and energy companies is a more effective way to tackle the problem.

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“We’re talking about a global moon shot, and engagement is the only way to get there,” Reif said.

The five-year plan calls for more research and education about climate change and solutions to mitigate and adapt to it; acceleration of low-carbon energy technology via eight new research centers; new tools to share climate information globally; and new measures to reduce carbon use on campus.

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The plan mentions several major oil and gas companies whose chief executives recently expressed support for combating climate change, six of whom fund energy research at MIT: BP, Eni, Saudi Aramco, Shell, Statoil, and Total.

“We believe we have greater power to build on such momentum not by distancing ourselves from fossil fuel companies, but by bringing them closer to us,” Reif said in a statement laying out the plan.

Investments in fossil fuel companies made up about 5 percent of the university’s portfolio, according to the latest analysis by MIT’s investors, a university spokeswoman said.

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MIT’s announcement comes after the school has spent more than a year studying how to best address climate change. The school formed a committee of students, faculty, and administrators to recommend action.

In June, the committee released a 52-page report that called for divestment from coal and tar sand companies but not from other fossil fuel concerns.

A student group that has been pushing for MIT to divest criticized the school’s decision Wednesday.

“This announcement is business-as-usual repackaged,” said Geoffrey Supran, a graduate student and organizer of Fossil Free MIT. “MIT has put money before morals and its students’ futures today.”

The divestment movement has been gaining momentum on campuses around the country. Last year, Stanford University announced it would divest from coal companies, and Georgetown University recently followed suit.

Other schools, such as Syracuse University and Hampshire College, pledged to divest their entire fossil fuel portfolios.

Last spring, students at Tufts University held a 55-hour sit-in to protest fossil fuel investment, and students at Harvard blocked administrative buildings. At Yale, police arrested 19 students in a campus protest against fossil fuel investment.

But most colleges, including Harvard, have rejected the idea of divestment. Harvard says the endowment is intended “to advance academic aims, not to serve other purposes, however worthy.”

MIT has a $13.5 billion endowment. Reif said he did not know what percentage is invested in fossil fuels.

Maria T. Zuber, the school’s vice president for research, said the decision to maintain the stake in fossil fuel companies was not based on concerns about potential financial loss. Zuber also said university endowment managers did not play a role in the decision, nor did the oil companies that fund energy research at MIT.

Some oil companies have come under fire recently for allegedly supporting the spread of misinformation about climate change. MIT’s plan says the college is “not naive about the pernicious role of some segments of the fossil fuel industry in creating the current policy deadlock.’’

MIT overall receives about 19 percent of its research funding, or $128 million, from companies, including about $50 million annually for energy research.

Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.
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