A response from 93 Faculty to the MIT Climate Action Plan

(*To find out more about the sit-in, visit MITsitin.org)

November 3, 2015

Dear MIT Community,

On October 21, President Reif announced a Plan for Action on Climate Change in response to the ongoing call from student group Fossil Free MIT for MIT to divest its $13.5 billion endowment from fossil fuel companies.

As faculty members who have signed an open letter in support of divestment, we write to express our deep frustration with MIT’s climate action plan. Though we welcome the constructive steps embodied in the plan and applaud the acknowledgement of “the seriousness and urgency of the climate threat, and the need for MIT to play a public leadership role,” we do not believe the Plan for Action on Climate Change meets these aspirations.

We support the students of Fossil Free MIT, who have been peacefully protesting* outside the President’s office to call for bolder, more decisive action. President Reif acknowledges that it was the actions of these students that motivated the administration to respond to climate change. In particular, the administration last year launched a nine-month MIT “conversation on climate change” steered by the Climate Change Conversation Committee, which would “recommend to the President a path forward.” In June, the Committee presented their recommendations. Unfortunately, the plan announced this October ignores many of the Committee’s recommendations, instead focusing on a repackaging of largely pre-existing programs and a close relationship with the fossil fuel industry.

Three aspects of the climate action plan are especially troubling.

First, it ignores two key recommendations of the Climate Change Conversation Committee. It ignores the 9-3 recommendation of the Committee in favour of divestment from coal and tar sands, “the most carbon-intensive and environmentally hazardous fossil fuels.” And it ignores the Committee’s unanimous support for the creation of an Ethics Advisory Council to “explicitly combat misinformation and avoid inadvertently supporting disinformation through investments.” If these are complicated issues for MIT, refusing to establish a committee to explore them cannot be the right response. Nor is continuing to invest in fossil fuels a less divisive move. More than 3,500 members of the MIT community have signed a petition in favor of fossil fuel divestment.

Second, the strategy of “engagement” proposed by the climate action plan, a strategy that would bring MIT “closer” to fossil companies, has history against it. Without greater leverage against these powerful corporations, we have no adequate means of persuading them to curtail their exploration and extraction of trillions of dollars worth of fossil fuels, whose use would cause irreparable climate catastrophe; to cease lobbying against clean energy in an effort to create political gridlock; and to stop spending untold millions undermining the science of global climate change. Targeted divestment from coal and tar sands is justified on scientific, economic, moral, and political grounds. It is an approach that has won the support of Stanford, Oxford, the University of California, and the Australian Academy of Science, among others. It is the right approach for MIT.

Third, the climate action plan aims to “reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions 32 percent by 2030” relative to 2014 emissions. We applaud the adoption of a target, the first time MIT has committed to any specific emissions reduction goal and timeline. But the goal falls far short of the aims of other universities, including Yale (43 percent by 2020), Cornell (100 percent by 2035), and Duke (100 percent by 2024). More than 400 universities have already committed to become climate neutral, and they are among 700 who have reduced their emissions an average of 21% in the last seven years. MIT’s weak goal maintains our Institute’s position as a laggard, not a leader. It is unworthy of our reputation for scientific innovation and technical know-how.

We join with Fossil Free MIT in urging the administration to meet its own aspiration to public leadership by:

  • Committing to divest from coal and tar sands companies.

  • Addressing climate science disinformation by establishing an Ethics Advisory Committee, whose assessments can lead to disinformation-based divestment.

  • Committing to achieve campus carbon neutrality by 2040 at the latest, and striving to achieve this target as far ahead of schedule as possible.

Sincerely,

Scott Aaronson
Associate Professor
Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science

Sandy Alexandre
Associate Professor
Department of Literature

Eric Alm
Associate Professor
Department of Biological Engineering; Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

Deborah Ancona
Seley Distinguished Professor of Management
Sloan School of Management

Clark Barwick
Cecil & Ida Green Associate Professor
Department of Mathematics

Jolyon Bloomfield
Lecturer
Department of Physics

Eugenie Brinkema
Associate Professor
Department of Literature; Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Louis Bucciarelli
Professor (Emeritus) of Engineering & Technology Studies
Department of Science, Technology & Society

John S. Carroll
Gordon Kaufman Professor of Management
Sloan School of Management

Noam Chomsky
Institute Professor (retired)
Department of Linguistics & Philosophy

Ian Condry
Professor of Japanese Culture & Media Studies
Head, Global Studies & Languages

Jane Abbott Connor
Lecturer II
Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Sasha Costanza-Chock
Associate Professor
Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Ellen Crocker
Senior Lecturer
Global Studies & Languages

Michel Degraff
Professor
Department of Linguistics & Philosophy

Junot Díaz
Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing
Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Peter S. Donaldson
Ford International Professor of Humanities
Department of Literature

Paloma Duong
Assistant Professor of Latin American Studies
Global Studies & Languages

Elfatih A. B. Eltahir
Professor
Associate Department Head
Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

Dara Entekhabi
Professor
Bacardi and Stockholm Water Foundations Chair
Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

Roberto Fernandez
William F. Pounds Professor in Management
Professor of Organization Studies
Sloan School of Management

Danny Fox
Anshen-Chomsky Professor in Language and Thought
Department of Linguistics & Philosophy

Stephanie Frampton
Associate Professor
Department of Literature

Robert M. Freund
Theresa Seley Professor in Management Science
Sloan School of Management

Michel Goemans
Leighton Family Professor of Mathematics
Department of Mathematics

Eric Goldberg
Associate Professor
Department of History

Renée Richardson Gosline
Zennon Zannetos (1955) Career Development Professor
Assistant Professor of Marketing
Sloan School of Management

Margarita Ribas Groeger
Senior Lecturer in Spanish
Global Studies & Languages

Marah Gubar
Associate Professor
Department of Literature

Aram Harrow
Assistant Professor
Department of Physics

Charles Harvey
Singapore Professor of Environmental Science
Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

Sally Haslanger
Ford Professor
Department of Linguistics & Philosophy; Department of Women’s & Gender Studies

Colette L. Heald
Associate Professor
Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

Stefan Helmreich
Elting E. Morison Professor of Anthropology
Head, Anthropology Program

Heather Hendershot
Professor
Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Diana Henderson
Professor
Department of Literature

Arne Hessenbruch
Lecturer
Department of Materials Science & Engineering

Jean Jackson
Professor of Anthropology Emeritus
MacVicar Faculty Fellow
Anthropology Program

Jason Jay
Senior Lecturer
Director of Sustainability Initiative
Sloan School of Management

David Jerison
Professor, Class of 1960 Fellow
Department of Mathematics

Steven G. Johnson
Professor
Department of Mathematics

David Keith
Assistant Professor
Sloan School of Management

Wyn Kelley
Senior Lecturer
Department of Literature

Christine Kelly
Senior Lecturer
Sloan School of Management

Michael Kenstowicz
Professor
Department of Linguistics

Jonathan Alan King
Professor of Molecular Biology
Department of Biology

Helen Elaine Lee
Professor
Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Sabine Levet
Senior Lecturer in French
Global Studies & Languages

Jennifer Light
Professor
Program in Science, Technology, and Society

George Lusztig
Professor
Department of Mathematics

Ceasar McDowell
Professor of the Practice of Community Development
Department of Urban Studies & Planning

David McGee
Assistant Professor
Department of Earth, Atmospheric & Planetary Sciences

Vann McGee
Professor
Department of Linguistics & Philosophy

Dennis McLaughlin
H.M. King Bhumibol Professor of Water Resource Management
Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

Haynes Miller
Professor
Philip Solondz (1948)-MacVicar Fellow
Department of Mathematics

Seth Mnookin
Associate Professor
Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Nick Montfort
Associate Professor of Digital Media
Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Emmy Murphy
Assistant Professor
Department of Mathematics

Robert Nachtrieb
Senior Lecturer in System Dynamics
Sloan School of Management

James Paradis
Robert M. Metcalfe Professor of Writing
Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Heather Paxson
William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Anthropology
MacVicar Faculty Fellow
Anthropology Program

Lee David Perlman
Senior Lecturer
Concourse Program

Ruth Perry
Ann Fetter Friedlaender Professor of Humanities
Literature; School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences

David Pesetsky
Ferrari P. Ward Professor of Modern Languages & Linguistics
Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellow
Head, Department of Linguistics & Philosophy

Yury Polyanskiy
Associate Professor
Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science

Martin Polz
Professor
Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

Bjorn Poonen
Claude Shannon Professor of Mathematics
Department of Mathematics

Hazhir Rahmandad
Assistant Professor
Sloan School of Management

Shankar Raman
Professor
Department of Literature

Agustín Rayo
Professor
Department of Linguistics & Philosophy

Margery Resnick
Associate Professor
Department of Literature

Susan Ruff
Lecturer II
Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Frederick P. Salvucci
Senior Lecturer
Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

Leona D. Samson
Uncas and Helen Whitaker Professor
American Cancer Society Research Professor
Department of Biological Engineering; Department of Biology

Andreas Schramm
Visiting Professor
Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

Kieran Setiya
Professor
Department of Linguistics & Philosophy

Peter Shor
Henry Adams Morss and Henry Adams Morss, Jr. Professor of Applied Math
Department of Mathematics

Susan S. Silbey
Leon and Anne Goldberg Professor of Humanities, Sociology and Anthropology
Anthropology Program; Behavioral and Policy Sciences, Sloan School of Management

Bradford Skow
Associate Professor
Department of Linguistics & Philosophy

Gigliola Staffilani
Professor
Department of Mathematics

Robert Stalnaker
Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy
Department of Linguistics & Philosophy

Lucas Stanczyk
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science

Donca Steriade
Professor of Linguistics
Department of Linguistics & Philosophy

John Sterman
Jay W. Forrester Professor of Management
Sloan School of Management

Stephen Tapscott
Professor
Department of Literature

T. L. Taylor
Professor
Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Jessika Trancik
Atlantic Richfield Career Development Assistant Professor in Energy Studies
Institute for Data, Systems, and Society

John Van Maanen
Erwin Schell Professor of Management
Sloan School of Management

David Vogan
Norbert Wiener Professor of Mathematics
Department of Mathematics

Roger White
Associate Professor
Department of Linguistics & Philosophy

David Gordon Wilson
Professor of Mechanical Engineering (Emeritus)
Department of Mechanical Engineering

Stephen Yablo
David S. Skinner Professor of Linguistics & Philosophy
Department of Linguistics & Philosophy

JoAnne Yates
Sloan Distinguished Professor of Management
Sloan School of Management

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