Famous historian Howard Zinn says, “if you don’t know history it is as if you were born yesterday. And if you were born yesterday, anybody up there in a position of power can tell you anything, and you have no way of checking up on it.” To encourage you to jump into our campaign, this serves as the story of how Fossil Free MIT (FFMIT) came to be and how our campaign is faring.
Bill McKibben of the famed 350.org stopped in Boston on his “Do the Math” Tour on climate change in the Fall of 2012. There were a lot of gray-heads and few college students. It was a stirring, upsetting evening that left many of us pumped and unnerved. One feature was to write to your college and university Presidents to promote divestment. At this time, Harvard, Boston University, and Northeastern had hundreds of signatures supporting divestment while MIT had just six. But those six found each other and met in a classroom one December afternoon to start the campaign for divestment from fossil fuel companies at MIT.
On-Campus Events and Actions
In the last two years, the group has organized a myriad of events such as movie screenings (e.g. Bidder 70, Chasing Ice), workshops (e.g. build your own solar powered cell phone charger, make your own sign for the People’s Climate March), as well as an educational panel on divestment. In order to increase our visibility on campus, we submitted many op-eds to The Tech and presented academic posters at Energy Night and Water Night. In the spring of 2014, we organized a Climate Speaker Series with guests ranging from MIT climate scientist Kerry Emanuel to social activist Bob Massie, best known for his opposition to South African apartheid. Former NASA climate scientist James Hansen rounded off the speaker series filling the seats of 10-250. In an effort to raise awareness on the direct impact of climate change on MIT, in May 2014 our group put up 4 miles of blue caution tape all across MIT’s campus showing the global warming flood line if a hurricane like Sandy hit Boston in 2050. It’s worth mentioning that our Blue Line action was officially endorsed by president Rafael Reif! We’ve also added a dose of humor to our campaign when we dressed up as snorkelers satirically supporting the fake group LOSERS (League Of Snorkelers Endorsing Rising Seas).
Actions with Other Climate/Divestment Groups
The fossil fuel divestment campaign is growing faster than any previous divestment campaign. We are not alone in this fight, and our group is often engaged in direct actions with other divestment and climate action groups across the country. Direct actions are empowering and fun ways to give a more public voice to our message, get people talking about the issue, and increase support for the campaign. We’ve been to the 40k+ “Forward on Climate” rally in Washington DC, but also to smaller divestment rallies at the Massachusetts State House (Massachusetts has a bill to divest its pensions, and cities in this state, including Cambridge, have voted for divestment). We’ve also had actions run by students like banner drops and a mass rally of thousands of students (including a dozen MIT students) across the country in Washington DC. There, almost 400 student arrestees chained themselves to the White House fence, four of which were MIT students, to tell president Obama that students don’t want to be locked into a future full of climate catastrophe. Our group led 70 MIT community members to the historical People’s Climate March in New York City where more than 400,000 people converged to clamor for action on climate.
While other divestment campaigns have met strong, vocal opposition from their respective administrations (e.g. Harvard), our group has had ongoing discussions with the MIT administration for almost two years. It all started with a letter to President Reif published in The Tech on April 19, 2013. As a result, we met with Vice President Kirk Kolenbrander. While the administration was willing to listen to us, it became clear that we needed to show concrete support for divestment on campus. Thus, in Fall 2013 we reached out to the MIT community with a petition asking the administration to immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies and to divest within five years from current holdings in these companies. On December 3, 2013, we proudly delivered over 2000 signatures to President Reif and the MIT administration! Our petition has not yet received a public response, although we were told that no Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR) would be convened to discuss divestment.
Fruitful Negotiations with the Administration
Since our petition delivery, we have had conversations with a wide range of administrators, including President Rafael Reif. There was no doubt that all of them believe climate change is a serious issue that needs to be addressed at MIT. However, it became clear that the MIT way of approaching this issue had to be all-encompassing, innovative, and inclusive. Hence FFMIT brought forward the idea of a Climate Action Plan. After many months of negotiation, the administration convened the MIT Climate Change Conversation Committee, charged with organizing a campus-wide conversation seeking to figure out what all can MIT do about climate change. FFMIT’s divestment proposal submitted to the newly launched Idea Bank has growing support from the MIT community. At the end of Spring 2015, this committee is charged with writing a report to President Reif. With your help, we can make sure divestment is at the top of their recommendations list. It’s important that the administration and the committee hear and see a clamoring of MIT community members who support divestment; not just a signature on a page, but community members who are willing to take a little time in their day and work together on pushing MIT to take meaningful action. This year is key to deciding what MIT does about climate change! We need to show the world that MIT community members are more than just scientists - we are concerned citizens of the world ready to fight for a just and stable future.