On October 21st the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) issued its Plan for Action on Climate Change. This document was the culmination of a year of discussions within the MIT community on the risks of climate change and the role that MIT should play as a leader on climate sciences and energy innovation. MIT's position is that overwhelming evidence shows that the world is warmer than it was in the pre-industrial age, and that present-day climate change is due to human activity, in particular the emission of greenhouse gasses. MIT supports the 2C Challenge which aims to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and sees the need for a world-wide, aggressive but pragmatic transition plan to achieve a zero-carbon energy system.
The Plan for Action will focus MIT resources on the following actions:
- Improve the understanding of climate change and advance novel, targeted mitigation and adaptation solutions.
- Accelerate progress towards low- and zero-carbon energy technologies. This includes collaboration with a diverse group of companies to launch eight Low-Carbon Energy Centers with 5-year funding close to $300 million.
- Educate a new generation of climate, energy and environmental innovators.
- Share what we know, and learn from others around the world.
- Use the MIT community as a test bed for change.
OWOE fully supports MIT on this issue and believes their active involvement will help accelerate the United States' transition to a future economy based on renewable energy. But there is another aspect of the Plan that is crucial to the discussion and mirrors one of the fundamental premises of OWOE, i.e., that such a transition is a complex and challenging effort that will require involvement and support from all stake-holders, including the fossil fuel industry. The MIT Plan for Action specifically addresses a petition presented by a student-led group called Fossil Free MIT for the university to divest any holdings in a group of 200 fossil fuel companies. MIT's conclusion was that a symbolic public gesture of divestment would not be the most effective approach and would interfere with the more promising strategies of active engagement and bold convening. They stated that they "deplore the practice of disinformation, through which some industry players and related groups have obstructed public understanding of the climate problem". However, the reality is that these fossil fuel companies have mastered the challenges of delivering energy to millions of households, are a rich source of technical talent, and can, and must be, a part of the solution.
OWOE hopes that MIT, as one of the pre-eminent universities and research centers in the world, can help move the US quickly from arguing about the fundamental science behind climate change and into a constructive, collaborative effort to address the challenges. The transition to a renewable energy future will require the support of utilities, who will continue to generate centralized power and manage the electrical grid which delivers it, and the oil and gas industry, who must continue to provide fuel for transportation and heating until viable alternatives in sufficient quantities are available.
For more details, see: MIT Plan for Action
Disclaimer: William Luyties, founder of OWOE, is an MIT graduate who spent 32 years in the oil and gas industry and 7 years in the electrical utility business.