More Than Just a ‘School of Mines,’ CSM Is a Major Player in Climate Research

The Colorado School of Mines, with its historic connection to fossil fuel and mineral extraction, would seem an unlikely place for a high-level pursuit of the transition from a world powered by fossil fuels to a world of clean energy, but that’s exactly what I have observed.

Even the Petroleum Engineering Department downplays petroleum extraction in its web page with the following opening lines: “As human standards of living rise, so does energy and resource consumption. Hydrocarbon energy will continue to dominate energy usage, and other non-hydrocarbon resource development, such as geothermal and subsurface resource acquisition and development, will continue to grow in importance.”

The spring 2022 edition of Mines Magazine had a major article with the headline, “Oil and gas engineers are the key to the energy transition.”

Back in February 2017, the Faculty Senate adopted a Climate Change Statement. Central to CSM’s commitment to addressing climate change is its Global Energy Future Initiative (GEFI) related to the university’s tagline, “Earth, Energy, Environment,” with a focus on Low Carbon and Renewable Energy, Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage, and Clean Water Innovations, in addition to Minerals & Metals, Supply Chain Transparency, and Oil & Gas.  Under “Oil & Gas,” the GEFI web page talks about “Designing interdisciplinary research focused on the science, engineering and policy of oil and gas in the net-zero energy future” (emphasis added)

While there is a commitment to continued extraction of oil and gas, including hydraulic fracturing, I’m impressed by the recognition that saving our planet depends on transitioning from oil and gas to other forms of energy that reduce or eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.

I have received the email newsletter of CSM’s Payne Institute for Public Policy for several years and have been impressed at the variety and depth of the research which it is working on with regards to climate change.

To give a sense of the depth and breadth of its research, the August 2022 email newsletter from the Payne Institute has the following headlines about different research projects, each with a detailed paragraph and a link to further information on the CSM website:

> New Winners, New Losers – Toward a New Energy Security

> Declaring a Climate Emergency Won’t Save the Planet — Energy Security Could

> Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage in the New Inflation Reduction Act

> Scrap, Sell, Auction or Repurpose? What’s the Best Business Model for Coal Plant Closure?

> How Energy Subsidy Reform Can Drive the Iranian Power Sector Towards a Low-Carbon Future

> Making Carbon Offset Disclosure Align with Climate Value

> Clearing the Non-Technical Hurdles for Carbon Capture & Sequestration

> Interest Group Power and the Passage of Nigeria’s Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) – A Multiple Streams Approach

> Tackling Ripple Effects of Renewable Energy on Mineral Supply Chain

> The Net-Zero Industry Tracker

I suggest that you Google “Colorado Schools of Mines Climate Change,” as I did, to see the many elements of CSM’s commitment to net zero energy research, climate change, and even on-campus sustainability. You’ll be impressed.

My fellow MIT alumni would never forgive me if I concluded this article without pointing out that our alma mater is equally committed to these issues and topics of research. For example, under its Climate Grand Challenges initiative, the Institute selected 27 teams as finalists from a field of nearly 100 initial proposals, representing 90 percent of MIT departments and involving almost 400 MIT faculty, senior researchers, and external collaborators. On April 11five teams with the most promising concepts were announced as multi-year flagship projects that will receive additional funding and support to develop, implement, and scale their solutions rapidly.

Thoughts From Attending My 50th Class Reunion at MIT

Forgive me for straying from my usual topic of real estate — I took some time off with Rita to attend my 50th reunion at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last week, and I was super-inspired by the experience of returning to the Institute for what was more than just a party. It was an immersion  into the continuing impact that MIT is having on the world of science and technology.

Reunions at MIT are probably unlike those at any other college or university. Yes, there is partying, but roughly half the events were educational in nature, updating alums on current research regarding important topics of the day. This year the dominant topic was climate change — something I wrote about, quite coincidentally, in last week’s column.

Not only was climate change the subject of Michael Bloomberg’s commencement address (there’s a video link for it at, but the 3-hour Technology Day symposium the following morning was all about climate change. The 1,200-seat auditorium was filled to capacity with alumni eager to be updated on MIT research about this important topic, and they were fully engaged to the very end.

Technology Day at MIT – click here for archived 3-hour video.

When I attended MIT 50 years ago, undergraduate men vastly outnumbered the undergraduate women, who barely filled the one dormitory provided for them.  Over the past 20 years, women have risen to comprise 46% of the undergraduate student body and 35% of the graduate student body, spanning every academic discipline. This gender equity was evident in Saturday’s symposium, too. Four of the six presenters, including the moderator, were women.

In his commencement address, the former NYC mayor observed that the technology for successfully addressing climate change is largely in place (except for bringing it to scale), and challenged graduates to go out into the world not just to expand upon it, but to build the political will to deploy it. I was reminded of that statement the following day while attending a Class of ’69 discussion about anti-Vietnam war activism at MIT during our time on campus. During the Q&A, a fellow ’69 alum said he had interviewed several undergraduates about political activism, which is not currently evident on campus. The impression he got is that the students are all “heads down,” concentrating on solving the world’s problems — such as climate change — undistracted by the politics that excite and divide those of us beyond the walls of academia.  Reflecting on that analysis, as someone who was very active politically as a 1960s undergrad and is still active now, I suspect it’s because nowadays, unlike in the 1960s, the Institute and its students are on the same page about such issues, sharing the same commitment to addressing commonly accepted world problems.

(In the unlikely event that President Trump were to stage a campaign rally in the Boston area, I get the impression there would be a sudden upwelling of activism at all local universities, including MIT, but the MIT activists would be focusing their vitrol on the President’s denial of climate change.)

Climate change, of course, is only one of the “world’s great challenges” which MIT is committed in its mission statement to addressing through academic research. We learned in Saturday’s symposium about ground breaking research on mass storage battery systems and alternatives to blast furnaces for creating steel. Those inventions likewise contribute in a big way to sustaining the livability of our planet.

A deceased member of the class of ’69, Bob Swanson, who cofounded Genentech, is generally credited with creating the biotech industry. Scores of biotech businesses now populate the high rises on Kendall Square, adjacent to the MIT campus. A tribute to his accomplishments during one of the luncheons was most inspiring.

It was hard not to come away from the reunion weekend without a deep appreciation of what MIT and its graduates can and are accomplishing in addressing the planet’s most important challenges.  I consider myself very fortunate to be among those who were given the privilege of being immersed in that environment for four or more years, however long ago.

A videographer asked members of my class what their biggest learning was from MIT.  My answer to that question referenced the chemical process of osmosis, a secondary definition of which, according to Google is, “the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas, knowledge, etc.” Just being in that environment amidst the faculty, administration and fellow students was its own education through osmosis. This may be hard to understand if you weren’t there, but my classmates would probably all nod in agreement.

I return from my reunion, renewed in my appreciation of science and technology and of all that my alma mater contributes to their positive application to society.

PS: I was honored when MIT chose to feature me in a pre-reunion “Slice of MIT” blog post, focusing on what I have done to transition Golden Real Estate’s office to “net zero energy.” Here’s a link to that blog post.