MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXVIII No. 4
March / April 2016
Some Steps Forward on Climate Action,
More Needed
Nuclear Weapons Divestment
Announced at MIT Conference
An Update on Climate Action
MIT and the Climate Challenge:
The Need for More Than Technical Solutions
An Updated Suggestion
Regarding Climate Change
A Century in Cambridge
Does MIT Really Need a Faculty Senate?
MIT Engineering Systems Division R. I. P.
LabArchives: Store and Organize
Your Research Data Online
Asking the Important Questions
Replanting Our Social
and Emotional Landscape
Defects in the MITIMCo Proposals
Questioning Construction Plans
for Kendall Square
Status of World Nuclear Forces
Printable Version

Nuclear Weapons Divestment
Announced at MIT Conference

Max Tegmark

Cambridge Mayor Denise Simmons announced on April 2 at MIT that the Cambridge City Council has unanimously voted to recommend divesting their $1 billion city pension fund from nuclear weapons production. “It’s my hope that this will inspire other municipalities, companies and individuals to look at their investments and make similar moves,” Simmons said.

The announcement was made at an MIT conference on reducing the dangers of nuclear war. The conference built on the long tradition of MIT Physics faculty pressing for nuclear disarmament, including Philip Morrison, Vicki Weisskopf, Herman Feshbach, Bernard Feld, and Henry Kendall. The hundreds of participants were welcomed by MIT Vice President for Research Maria Zuber, who was followed by a roster of speakers including MIT faculty Aron Bernstein, Frank Wilczek, Jonathan King, and myself, as well as Harvard Prof. Elaine Scarry. Many emphasized that 1,000 nuclear weapons are plenty enough to deter any nation from nuking the U.S., yet we are hoarding nearly 7,000 [see Numbers], and a long string of near-misses have highlighted the continuing risk of an accidental nuclear war which could trigger a nuclear winter, potentially killing most people on Earth. Rutgers climate scientist Prof. Alan Robock presented supercomputer simulations suggesting that nuclear winter will be even more severe than initially forecast, with even a limited India-Pakistan nuclear war starving billions to death, and an all-out U.S.-Russia exchange triggering a decade-long mini ice age.

Yet rather than trimming our excess nukes, we Americans are planning to spend $4 million per hour for the next 30 years making them more lethal. Former Secretary of Defense William Perry argued that this spending will make us less safe, and that souring U.S.-Russian relations have made the risk of nuclear war (resulting from terror or error) greater today than during most of the Cold War. “Not in our name!” Mayor Simmons exclaimed and drew a standing ovation after her divestment announcement. Physicist Stephen Hawking sent a personal message of support: “If you want to slow the nuclear arms race, then put your money where your mouth is and don’t bank on the bomb!”

Personally, I see intellectual links between this issue and the spirited MIT debate about fossil fuel divestment. Nuclear winter would be the ultimate climate change: not 2°C heating but 20°C cooling. Moreover, like climate change, the restarting nuclear arms race is driven in no small part by money, with behind-the-scenes lobbying for the new trillion-dollar triad by the very companies who want to build it. Just as there’s climate change denial, there’s nuclear winter denial and other claims from industry-funded think tanks that don’t hold up to scientific scrutiny.

The MIT administration has correctly pointed out that there are multiple ways of influencing the private sector, ranging from engagement and shareholder activism to divestment. Divestment helped stigmatize the production of land mines and cluster munitions, which have now nearly ground to a halt. I believe that it can similarly help stigmatize the nuclear weapons production that even a former secretary of defense opposes, in which case it will strengthen the bargaining power of those pushing to instead spend that trillion dollars on what our armed forces truly require and on education, research, infrastructure, and other urgent needs.

I was shocked to realize that I myself was exacerbating the problem: my wife and I had been unwittingly investing in nuclear weapons production through my MIT IRA. This inspired me to work with colleagues at the Future of Life Institute to make an easy-to-use app for people and organizations to put their money where their mouth is, and I encourage you to check the status of your own investments at In practice, it is quite easy to divest, since many financial institutions now offer mutual funds catering to the growing market for socially responsible investing, including Ariel, Calvert, Domini, Neuberger, Parnassuss, Pax World, and TIAA-CREF. “We appreciate and share Cambridge’s desire to exclude nuclear weapons production from its pension fund. Pension funds are meant to serve the long-term needs of retirees, a service that nuclear weapons do not offer,” said Julie Fox Gorte, Senior Vice President for Sustainable Investing at Pax World.

The Conference was co-sponsored by MIT Radius, Mass Peace Action, the Future of Life Institute, and the American friends Service Committee.

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