D. Share what we know, and learn from others around the world
MIT often serves as an independent voice in contentious, technically grounded policy debates. In that spirit, and at the urging of the Climate Change Conversation Committee, we will accelerate our efforts to offer the public a trusted source of climate change information, to engage leaders and citizens in the effort for solutions, and to use MIT’s expertise in online education to dramatically expand our reach.
To those ends, under the coordination of ESI:
We will educate leaders in industry and government through a new suite of short courses and executive seminars—using online learning technologies to reach leaders everywhere and at every level, far from Cambridge or Washington, DC—on the risks of and options for combatting climate change.
We will expand the capacity of MIT’s Climate CoLab. This digital community, led by more than 200 experts, has already engaged nearly 50,000 individuals from over 170 countries to crowdsource climate priorities and novel solutions. We will support its expansion as a vital asset.
We will mobilize the strength of our alumni. MIT’s 130,000 alumni represent an exceptional untapped resource for driving substantive progress on climate change—and we are certain that our graduates will know better than we do how to make the most of their strength, from their
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technical expertise to their professional and community networks. With practical support from MIT’s Climate CoLab, today we open a competition to determine the most effective ways for the MIT alumni community to help MIT implement today’s plan. We urge you to join in.
We will create a web portal on climate change to supply the public with timely, accurate climate information and offer diverse expert perspectives.
We will pursue solutions through the convening power of “Solve.” This October, MIT hosted the inaugural session of “Solve,” an effort to convene a wide range of influential thinkers and doers with the power and position to drive progress on a set of great global challenges, including climate change. MIT will convene Solve each year, and in the intervening months will work with participants to sustain the momentum for progress.
E. Use our community as a test bed for change
As we work to pioneer technologies and policies to help society combat climate change, we feel a keen responsibility to improve the sustainability of our campus and to use it as a test bed for faculty, student and staff ideas. Moreover, we will actively share pertinent results of our reduction strategies and related research projects, in case they could be helpful to similar campuses and organizations around the world.
We begin with these steps:
We will reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions 32% by 2030.
In its campus operations, MIT will pursue a coordinated suite of carbon-reduction strategies focused on power generation, distribution and demand management. After careful study, we believe this path makes an initial 32% reduction feasible despite projected growth of the campus; we will pursue further reductions if possible. These strategies will include making significant improvements to the cogeneration plant that provides 85% of campus energy; pursuing additional renewable energy options for our remaining power requirements; and renewing our aging utility distribution system. MIT is also committed to the integration of low-carbon design strategies, and ultra-efficient energy technologies within our buildings. We will develop and share a campus climate action plan within the year.
We will eliminate the use of fuel oil in campus power generation by 2019.
As a component of our capital renewal plan, natural gas will be the primary fuel source in MIT’s Cogeneration Plant. Ultra-low-sulfur diesel will be used only in emergency situations.
We will actively pursue new carbon-cutting strategies across campus.
Capturing the recommendations of the 2015 Sustainability Working Groups, the upcoming Campus Sustainability Report aligns campus operations along a set of sustainability principles, putting MIT on a path to being a state-of-the-art sustainable campus. The report leverages the MIT 2030 Capital Renewal Plan, identifying this major campus transformation as presenting rare openings to invest in efficient building systems, envelopes, metering and new technologies. MIT is committed to an integrated design process that factors sustainability into the design, construction and renovation of all new and existing MIT buildings, including their systems, materials, sites and infrastructure. In the next fifteen years, for example, the majority of building roofs at MIT will be replaced. We will take advantage of this opportunity to evaluate and deploy a range of sustainable roof strategies, from today’s solar panels to “green roofs” and beyond. We will also use the renewal process to create “green laboratories.”
We will enact “carbon shadow pricing.”
A central problem in fighting climate change is that carbon emissions are effectively “free”; neither individuals nor institutions have much direct incentive to cut back. Appropriate pricing of carbon is widely accepted as an essential policy instrument to help mitigate climate disruption.
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As we push toward our 32% reduction in carbon emissions, we will experiment with the effects of including in our institutional decision-making an honest accounting of carbon costs. This will require that we design, implement and assess the effectiveness of a carbon “shadow pricing” plan; to start with, it would be intended to influence all future capital renewal projects. We
will also study selected aspects of end-user carbon pricing on our campus, to provide data that students and faculty can use to study what policies would best reduce carbon emissions by changing habits and behaviors.
We will deploy an open data platform for campus energy use.
To improve our energy management and to provide faculty, staff and students with a useful resource for research and intelligent decision-making, we will institute a new regime to measure campus energy use and will share our findings through an open data platform.
We will activate our campus as a living lab.
As we renew the campus, we will actively seek opportunities to test carbon efficient technologies and practices, and to offer hands-on education in climate science and sustainable design. This might include a rooftop-testing facility for the kind of solar technologies our faculty and students are busy inventing even now.
IV. The Question of Divestment
This section describes how divestment emerged as an issue on our campus and why we have chosen not to divest.
The student-led group Fossil Free MIT has presented a petition with around 3,400 community signatures, calling on MIT to divest any holdings in a group of 200 fossil fuel companies whose identified reserves,
if burned, would send the global climate over the 2°C limit that we highlighted in Section I.
as we understand it from them, is to use the pressure of an international movement of high-profile institutional divestment to draw attention to the seriousness of the climate threat, and to trigger action against it, by publicly stigmatizing the practices of the fossil fuel industry.
We agree entirely on the seriousness and urgency of the climate threat, and on the need for MIT to play a public leadership role. However, after studying this question, we conclude that divestment is incompatible with the strategy of engagement that forms the heart of today’s plan. Serious action to confront climate change demands intense collaboration across the research community, industry and government; divestment would thwart our ability to collaborate and to convene opposing parties and inspire united action.
In our judgment, a symbolic public move to divest is not the most effective way for MIT to drive progress on the climate challenge, and pursuing it would interfere with the two strategies MIT should pursue because of their promise for direct progress: active engagement and bold convening.
As the plan we share today makes clear, we find that the best way for MIT to accelerate action on the climate challenge—in science, in technology, in policy and in the education of our students—is active engagement with organizations of many kinds. Rapid progress will depend on our collaborating with a wide range of industry partners, from the most disruptive local solar start-ups to fossil fuel giants that have mastered the challenges of delivering energy to millions of households.
Furthermore, acceleration will depend on our ability to help industry and government understand each other, on the road to designing sound policy incentives. We also see a unique opportunity for MIT to serve as a convener of widely different voices and sectors—from activists to industry leaders—to help
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A Plan for Action on Climate Change | 16 shift the public dialogue on climate from deadlocked argument to a constructive conversation about
Some argue that it would be possible to take a symbolic stance against greenhouse gas emissions by publicly divesting from fossil fuel holdings, while also continuing to work with fossil fuel companies in these many contexts. We disagree.
In our judgment, the deliberate public act of divestment would entangle MIT in a movement whose core tactic is large-scale public shaming. This would retard rather than encourage the open collaboration
and ability to hear new ideas that are central to our research relationships, central to our ability to help government and business think creatively together, and central to our ability to convene and inform the thinking of those with opposing views.
Throughout the last two years, the student leaders of Fossil Free MIT have acted with great respect, in a spirit of candor and collaboration. We believe that we should behave the same way toward fossil fuel companies.
We are not naïve about the pernicious role of some segments of the fossil fuel industry in creating the current policy deadlock. We deplore the practice of “disinformation,” through which some industry players and related groups have obstructed public understanding of the problem of climate change. We are engaged in candid conversations with industry allies, and we will continue to advocate frankly with them as we all work together for systemic solutions to climate change, including a price on carbon; such a policy shift would change the incentives for us all and make fossil fuel companies, a rich source of technical talent, a central source of progress.
A tipping point
As with the protection of the ozone layer, well-crafted policies can harness the creative forces of industry to serve the common good. We judge that growing awareness of climate change may be generating a tipping point in that policy dynamic now. Witness the fact that in Paris last Friday, October 16, 2015, the CEOs of ten of the world’s largest oil and gas companies declared that their “shared ambition is for a 2°C future,” and called for “an effective climate change agreement” at next month’s 21st session of the UN Conference of Parties to the UN Framework on Climate Change (COP21).
Six of those companies—BP, Eni, Saudi Aramco, Shell, Statoil and Total—are members of MITEI. We believe we have greater power to build on such momentum not by distancing ourselves from fossil fuel companies, but by bringing them closer to us.
We have chosen different tactics than those in the Fossil Free MIT petition. But our ultimate goal is not different. The members of Fossil Free MIT and the Climate Change Conversation Committee, many
of whom are personally engaged in advancing leading-edge climate science and renewable energy technologies, stimulated much of the thinking that produced the coordinated commitments in the plan we issue today. Above all, they brought climate change to the top of MIT’s institutional agenda by urging that MIT assume a role of public leadership.
We step up to that challenge with this plan—and with the tide of new ideas and energy we hope it will unlock across the global community of MIT. We hope everyone in our community—including those who wish we had divested—will work with us to help this vital effort succeed.
In 1995, Mario Molina, then a professor at MIT, shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for pioneering work he did as a post-doc in the early 1970s that connected chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), then widely used in applications from aerosol sprays to air conditioning, to depletion of the Earth’s protective ozone layer. His research, combined with the work of field scientists who detected a growing ozone hole over the Antarctic, was critical to the passage of the Montreal Protocol, the 1987 United Nations agreement that banned the use of CFCs.
Today, the ozone hole is gradually healing, and the Montreal Protocol stands as the most effective global environmental treaty ever.
This past spring, Dr. Molina, whose many roles include climate advisor to the President of his native Mexico, returned to MIT to deliver an urgent message. Speaking to an overflow crowd of faculty and students, he described the sobering risks associated with climate change. And he called on the MIT community to use its stature, talent and resources to communicate the threat of climate change; to help overcome the kind of doubt, industry resistance and policy deadlock that he encountered during the struggle over ozone; and to help drive rapid progress towards real solutions.
We share Dr. Molina’s assessment that climate change and its many interrelated problems present risks too grave to gamble with. To solve this global problem, humanity must reorder the global energy status quo. To make a serious difference, we are eager to engage everyone we can. This is too important. We ask you to join us.
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