MIT Students: We're Sitting-In at President Reif's Door Until He Divests From Fossil Fuels
Today at 6.30 a.m., a dozen students began a sit-in at the doorstep of their president’s office in opposition to MIT’s announced decision yesterday to “not divest [its $13.5 billion endowment] from the fossil fuel industry,” including climate denying corporations, and instead “bring them closer.” It is the first time in a quarter century that MIT has seen such unrest.
MIT’s divestment campaigners are particularly furious that their president has chosen not to sell stocks from coal and tar sands companies, an action backed 9-to-3 by the president’s own advisory committee in June.
“Divestment from coal and tar sands is a no-brainer, and would have unified rather than ostracized MIT’s community” commented Geoffrey Supran, an MIT PhD student sitting-in, and a member of President Reif’s climate advisory committee and of the student group advocating divestment, Fossil Free MIT. “With $2.6 trillion of precedent—including at Stanford, Oxford, and UC—divestment from coal and tar sands is financially prudent, scientifically consistent, morally right, and politically effective.”
President Reif’s decision to also not address climate science disinformation is another reason why many are protesting. Just this week, congressmen such as presidential candidate Bernie Sanders have called for a federal investigation of ExxonMobil’s decades of climate lies. Meanwhile, MIT’s plan “deplores” climate science disinformation, yet proposes nothing to deal with it, entirely ignoring the unanimous recommendation of the president’s committee for an Ethics Advisory Council to “explicitly combat disinformation and avoid inadvertently supporting disinformation through investments.” In fact, the plan argues that MIT ought to strengthen its relationship of “great respect”, “candor and collaboration” with fossil fuel companies (even including coal companies), described as “the same” as that between MIT’s administrators and its students.
“We’re sitting-in because MIT has put money before morals and its students’ futures, choosing to side with Big Oil and the Kochs instead of the thousands of students, staff, faculty, and alumni—not to mention our president’s own committee—calling for divestment,” added Supran.
President Reif’s decision comes during a $5.5 billion capital campaign—the largest in the Institute’s history. MIT receives more industry funding than almost any other university in the country, its research sponsors including ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, Eni, Saudi Aramco, Shell, Statoil, Total, and the American Petroleum Institute and its 600-plus members. Climate disinformation bankroller David Koch has given MIT $185 million and is a Life Member of MIT’s Board of Trustees. Last November, MIT signed a five-year $25 million deal with ExxonMobil, which has in recent days cited its affiliation with MIT in an effort to greenwash its history of denialist campaigns.
We're sitting-in @MIT President's door until he divests from fossil fuels. Here's why: https://t.co/capPzi8ZwJ #DivestMIT #ScientistsSitIn— Geoffrey Supran (@Geoffrey Supran)1445519988.0
Jeremy Poindexter, an MIT PhD student working on solar cells explained why he is among those camped outside President Reif’s office:
“We won’t stand idly by while divestment gets tossed aside despite support from thousands of MIT community members. It’s ironic that in a climate action plan inspired entirely by divestment, our administration claims that engagement with the fossil fuel industry is a better action. In reality, divestment has a proven theory of change toward limiting warming to 2 degrees C. What’s President Reif’s? What have MIT’s decades of inside-access to fossil fuel interests gotten us? The answer is an industry that has lied about climate science, pours hundreds of millions of dollars every year into lobbying against renewables, and spends hundreds of billions of dollars pursuing a business model scientifically incompatible with holding back catastrophic climate change. And yet MIT has decided to continue investing more than half-a-billion dollars in this industry undermining our own work.”
On the action plan’s other proposals, Supran commented, “This plan is business-as-usual repackaged. It’s a campus emissions target consistent with an unacceptable 3.5 degrees of global warming. It’s MIT’s ordinary fundraising for energy research, wrapped up in a “$300 million” soundbite. It’s too little, too late.”
MIT’s divestment decision, part of its Plan for Action on Climate Change, flies in the face of more than 3,500 petition signatures from MIT community members, the recommendations of the MIT president’s own committee to divest from coal, tar sands, and climate denying corporations, a resolution from Cambridge City Council, and separate open letters from MIT student groups, faculty, alumni, and 33 prominent climate scientists and advocates, among them James Hansen, the President of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Noam Chomsky and Mark Ruffalo.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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