Fossil fuel divestment, and the Koch brothers

I generally support the pro-disinvestment position taken in this column in Sunday’s New York Times, and in Karen Hao’s May 13, 2014 column in The Tech. MIT’s decision to divest would have exceptional impact because of the Institute’s global brand in science and technology. The decision to divest is not easy because the world still needs fossil fuels and because the companies that extract, process, and distribute them also fund clean energy research. But, for MIT, fossil fuel divestment would also be the first step in solving a problem that is unique to the Institute.

It is long past time to put some daylight between MIT and the Koch brothers, alumni whose name is plastered all over campus. The Kochs have spent decades and hundreds of millions of dollars creating false doubt about the scientific consensus on climate change using sham scientific associations and anonymous 501(c)(3) organizations. As the cost of climate change becomes more and more apparent, the Koch brothers will go down in history as villains, no matter how many cancer research centers and opera houses they fund.

I don’t expect MIT to raze the Koch buildings, but the Institute can at least take a stand on the right side of the scientific “debate,” a debate that would have ended at least a decade ago but for the Koch brothers.

No other school can divest with the impact of MIT. No other school is so entwined with the Kochs, and no other school needs so badly to dissociate itself from their disastrous legacy.

Michael Hassett is a member of the Class of 1972.

Anonymous over 9 years ago

Wow, this piece is right on point! I agree with you and will be delightfully surprised if the Institute does anything to distance themselves from the Kochs or ever accept the Institute's role in helping to legitimize the Koch's image and implicit support of a particularly nasty, greed-driven, anti-science agenda that could very well undermine real democracy and everything this Institute wishes (pretends?) to stand for.

Gerry Gras over 9 years ago

I also agree with this letter. I am a climate activist because I believe that global warming is the #1 issue facing humanity. And I think most climate activists see the Koch brothers as the worst offenders. I am embarrassed that the Koch brothers went to MIT.

Gerry Gras, class of 1969

PMK over 9 years ago

Hear, hear. MIT's most embarrassing alumni.

Cathy Buckley '71 over 9 years ago

Thanks for the excellent letter, Michael. Well said. I can think of no better body than MIT to stand with science and to say to the world, our integrity if not for sale.

MIT '12 over 9 years ago

"False doubt"

How can doubt itself be false? Are we dealing with science or religion here? Science ALWAYS has room for doubt- that's what sets it apart from faith.

The Koch brothers are in the company of Freeman Dyson and many other scientists in doubting the extent of anthropogenic climate change and what we should do about it, not to mention MIT's own Professor Lindzen.



MIT '12

Steve Cohen over 9 years ago

From the NYT piece:

"Dyson agrees with the prevailing view that there are rapidly rising carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere caused by human activity."

"Dyson calls ocean acidification, which many scientists say is destroying the saltwater food chain, a genuine but probably exaggerated problem. Sea levels, he says, are rising steadily"

He does not see these as major problems, for a variety of reasons, but he does not deny the existence of the problem, or the origin of the phenomena. He advocates waiting for more data.

We may not have time for more data.

Also from the NYT,

"Dr. Lindzen accepts the elementary tenets of climate science. He agrees that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, calling people who dispute that point "nutty." He agrees that the level of it is rising because of human activity and that this should warm the climate."

Again, he thinks it is self correcting, but he does not deny the facts.

The Koch brothers, as far as I can tell, deny the basic facts that Dyson and Lindzen agree upon. They certainly fund organizations that deny the basic facts. If you can find someplace where they agree with those facts, please post it.

Doubt of interpretations is good science. Doubt of clearly established facts is not science- it is dogma, or it is deception.

Michael Hassett over 9 years ago

"[F]alse doubt" refers to the existence of consensus (a matter of counting noses - or peer reviewed articles), not the underlying science.

A true scientific inquiry that's not a pretext for obfuscation and delay is not false doubt. The Kochs funded Prof. Richard Muller's review of climate change science. To their dismay, Muller confirmed the consensus view. This did not slow the Kochs' campaign of deception. Apparently, they were more interested in Koch Industries' profits than any real scientific question.

Bob Miller over 9 years ago

If we accept the premise that money can corrupt research, let's look into the corrupting effects of grant money from government agencies and private foundations seeking to advance a liberal agenda.

Gerry Gras '69 over 9 years ago

I expect that money can corrupt nearly anything. But I don't see government advancing a liberal agenda. And private foundations try to advance liberal and conservative agendas.

But what is important here is: How serious is AGW (anthropogenic global warming), and what actions should individuals and institutions take in response.

It is becoming more and more clear that, despite the remaining uncertainties, AGW is very serious, (probably the #1 issue facing humanity), and a major concerted global effort to reduce AGW is appropriate.

And I am not receiving any money in any way for my actions regarding AGW, on the contrary I am spending my own money on it.

Brad Johnson '04 MS over 9 years ago

MIT community members can vote and comment on this Climate Idea Bank proposal to remove David Koch from the board:


Here's the main divestment proposal:


Bill Litant about 9 years ago

Excellent letter. The hypocrisy/oxymoron of placing the Koch name on a cancer research center is astonishing.