An MIT Alumni Association Publication

President Reif Announces MIT’s Plan for Action on Climate Change

  • Jay London
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Last week, MIT President L. Rafael Reif wrote to the MIT community to share MIT’s Plan for Action on Climate Change. In his letter, President Reif asked for input on the best ways that the MIT community can help the plan succeed and introduced a contest run by MIT's Climate CoLab and judged by MIT alumni.

The Climate CoLab’s contest seeks ideas for how MIT alumni can help implement different aspects of MIT's plan for action. Proposals can be at any stage of development, including burgeoning ideas, strategies ready for implementation, or already-successful initiatives.

Contest winners will be invited to present their ideas in a conference at MIT. The deadline for proposals is Friday, Jan 29, 2016, and the judges include five MIT alumni: MIT Alumni Association President and Chair John Chisholm ’75, SM ’76; MIT Department of Chemical Engineering Head Paula Hammond ’84, SM ’93; Sarah Stewart Johnson PhD ’08; Donald E. Shobrys '75; and Anne Street ’69, SM ’72.

Read the president’s letter below then visit or read an MIT News summary of MIT’s climate change plan.

Dear members of the MIT community,

I write to share a plan of action for redoubling MIT’s efforts to confront the urgent challenge of climate change. This five-year plan represents the shared perspective of MIT’s senior officers, informed by extensive discussion, reflection and input from across the MIT community.

We build on last year’s Campus Conversation on Climate Change and draw insight from the proposals of its organizing committee. I am grateful to Professor Roman Stocker and his committee for helping our community explore this complex and potentially divisive topic with civility, candor and mutual respect, and for producing a thought-provoking report. I also thank the hundreds of faculty, students, staff and alumni who offered detailed comments on the committee’s report over the summer. Through this extended exploration, we all learned a great deal—and we saw the MIT community at its problem-solving best.

The Campus Conversation, in turn, emerged in response to efforts of the student-led group, Fossil Free MIT, to galvanize systemic action on climate change. The advocacy of these students helped to inspire the plan we issue today; it would not have taken shape as it has without their willingness to work with us toward the shared goal of meaningful climate action. I hope they will join us in this great work.

I am also extremely grateful to the Conversation Leadership for the stewardship of this process: Vice President for Research Maria Zuber, Provost Martin Schmidt, Environmental Solutions Initiative Founding Director Susan Solomon and MIT Energy Initiative Director Robert Armstrong. In particular, we are indebted to Maria for the brilliant leadership, broad consultation and consensus building that produced today’s far-reaching plan. We will also rely on her for the oversight and ongoing coordination of our research, outreach and convening efforts, to ensure our plan of action succeeds.

Finally, I thank every one of you who participated. I ask you to stay involved. The people of MIT are already hard at work on many aspects of climate change; today’s plan unites, extends and accelerates these vital efforts, with fresh energy, urgency and vision.

There is room and reason for each of us to be part of the solution. I urge everyone to join us in rising to this historic challenge.


Rafael Reif

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Daniel Freire

Mon, 11/23/2015 4:09pm

It seems many people believe there is no man induced climate change and, therefore, it does not make sense to do anything. They talk about the limitations of the models, limited knowledge about the past, etc.

They may be right, but... Is it possible to be 100% sure that they are right? No, it is not possible because of the same limitations they mention.

The price of being wrong and do nothing is huge given that we only have one planet Earth. I can play with chances with many things, but not with this one. We are talking about the future of humanity.

Daniel Freire MCP MST 98


Sat, 11/21/2015 11:44am

Your "Conversation" document reads more like a manifesto and it appears your war on "disinformation" reeks of propaganda that suppresses any dissenting data and viewpoints. No acknowledgement of disinformation and exaggeration on the side a climate change proponents? Where's the honesty in that? Safe haven for diversity of ideas?

David Whitlock

Tue, 12/08/2015 5:16pm

George, What interest rate would we need to "invest" that money at to compensate those who have their homes, and living space flooded by rising sea levels? Or made uninhabitable by rising temperatures? A wet-bulb temperature of 35 C is not survivable.

If half the area where humans live becomes uninhabitable, to a first approximation, that means the loss of ~half of human property.

In reply to by George Stimmel

Chuck Coltharp

Mon, 01/18/2016 5:03pm

Malthusian arguments may have been premature, but won't they have to be addressed eventually? Greater population implies greater demands on resources of water, food, clothing, shelter, medical attention. All these imply more need for energy, which renewables aren't going to supply. Population masses should be included in the analysis for a plan, but I see no mention of it. Maybe it is just too PC taboo to even whisper. Makes you wonder at the integrity of some of the AGW alarmists.

George Stimmel

Tue, 12/08/2015 11:49pm

I guess that my long life (81) has made me skeptical, but I consider man-made global warming more of a religion than a science. I remember the billions of dollars wasted on the conversion of automobile air conditioners to prevent a gas in the refrigerant from poisoning the atmosphere before Mt. Pinatubo spewed out more of it in its 1st 24 hours than had been made by mankind.

When real climatologists can predict tomorrows weather with a lot more certainty than they can now, I'll some faith in their longer term predictions. I don't think they can now predict with 95% certainty where the eye of a hurricane will be in 3 hours.

In reply to by David Whitlock

David Whitlock

Mon, 11/23/2015 10:24am

There is no "disinformation" on the side of those concerned about anthropogenic climate change. The disinformation is completely one sided. Brought to us by the same people who did the disinformation campaign for the Tobacco Industry.

Anyone who understands the science, knows that. Those who claim there is disinformation coming from those concerned about anthropogenic climate change are projecting their own mindset of denialism onto those they disagree with.

There is abundant information that AGW is real, is a serious problem, is getting worse, and will cause serious problems in the future.

No one can seriously and honestly look at the data and models in totality and come to any other honest conclusion. The only people who can do so are either ignorant or deliberately disingenuous. Which are you?

Sorry if this feels like "shaming". To me, the only people that can be "shamed" are those who are doing shameful things. Lying about AGW is something shameful. Putting CO2 into the atmosphere without paying the cost to mitigate those effects is shameful. Lying about what those costs are is shameful. If you are doing something shameful, the best way to mitigate those feelings of shame is to stop doing the shameful things and do things that are not shameful. Denying reality and pretending AGW isn't happening is a delusional course of action.

In reply to by Jon

George W Chyz

Sun, 12/13/2015 4:04pm

Just thought I aught to point out that the human activity that is the most damaging to the atmosphere as well as the environment in general is the production of animal products. In the USA we use more than 60% of all petroleum used for the production of animal products. Also over 60% of all water is used for the production of animal products. In addition to the inputs the excrement from feed lots makes up the largest source of watet pollution.

In addition to the environmental impact we waste over 80% of the food produced by feeding it to animals creating shortages for poor people who have been displaced by cattle ranchers. Finally the consumption of meat increases testosterone levels thereby increasing aggression that results in more violence in our society.

If people become vegetarian more than half of these destructive human impacts would be alleviated. Also the blood of over 200,000 animal deaths per minute would be spared.

How can we foster a happy and peaceful world with all this bloodshed?

It's time for a change. I've been a vegan or vegetarian sence 1987 and the health benefits are clearly tremendous.

This is a personal choice that can change the world.

There is overwhelming evidence that a plant based diet is the most healthy diet available.

Done delay, the sooner you choose compassion and health the sooner you and the world will benefit.

George Stimmel

Mon, 12/07/2015 11:52pm

Let's take that money that we're going to gamble on climate change to save our great grandchildren and instead pay off some of the debt whose interest payments will enslave them.


Fri, 12/04/2015 1:50pm

I agree with Daniel, 100% and I really like this idea.

Of course we don't have all of the answer to whether climate change is real or not but do we really want to take a chance on our future generations lives? We've taken lots of steps in the past decade but I'd like to see some leaps.

In reply to by Daniel Freire

George W Chyz

Fri, 12/11/2015 3:37pm

Here are some simple ways to reverse climate change and improve performance and productivity.

First and formost make the production and use of biochard a top priority in all farming. Biochard returns carbon to the soil in a form that is stable for 1500 years! Furthermore it dramatically increases production and quality of the crops. This is the most practical way to get carbon out of the air and back into the earth because its agricultural benefits are so valuable.

Second with the increased agricultural production we can switch back to ethonal fuels which have zero carbon footprint. Ethanol has an octane of 109 making it a superior fuel to petroleum. With smaller engines of higher compression ethanol can improve efficiency while reducing pollution and achieve a net zero carbon load on the atmosphere.

Third, we could go back to using magnesium oxide cement rather than Portland cement. Mgo cement sequesters carbon from the atmosphere and it superior to Portland. It sets in 20 minutes and has a compresive strength of 8000 psi. Portland is made by heating calcium which requires a fuel to be burned. Mgo is mined and used by adding water. No fuel needed. As it cures carbon is sequestered from the atmosphere and locked up in the cement. This cement is used in the great wall of China as well as the skyscrapers of Dubai. Mgo cement was shut down by the same bankers that shut down the population of ethanol.

Fourth, I suggest that industrial hemp replace cotton and other fibers including synthetics wherever it is practical. Furthermore the seed oil is a very high quality oil that can replace petrolium oil products.

Hemp, ethonal, and Mgo cement were all quietly pushed out of use by the bankers in the early 1900s. These greedy banksters unwittingly shut down sustainable industries that have all the qualities we now realize as beneficial. They are carbon neutral, sustainable, and renewable.

With biochard added to these great old industries we can actually reverse the environmental problems that have developed and let the plants do the work that they are so wonderfully capable of doing.

The key is in taking care of the soil.

Plus plants are beautiful while factories and oil rigs are ugly.

Ultimately the bankers and the financial system has led us astray. There are healthy ways to set up finacial systems. Unfortunately we have the sick system that enriches the bankers and burdens the world. Check out "Healthy Money Healthy Planet" by Deirdre Kent.

Good luck, George

David Whitlock

Tue, 11/24/2015 3:10pm

So much for “constructive engagement”

The fossil fuel industry has been deliberately misinforming the public.

It is not possible to have “positive engagement” with people who are not working with you in good faith. The fossil fuel industry, and in particular Exxon and Koch Industries have not, and are not working in good faith.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice? Fool me 10^9 times? Fool me while betting the lives and livelihoods of billions of people?

In the interest of disclosure of conflicts of interest, or of apparent conflicts of interest, how much money has the fossil fuel industry paid to MIT or the various policy makers at MIT responsible for this policy and document?

David Whitlock

Tue, 11/24/2015 11:21am

The comments on this thread are an excellent demonstration of why MIT needs to do something more, something dramatic, even if only symbolic.

On this [moderated] thread, multiple MIT graduates, commenting on a MIT message thread about AGW and MIT's response to AGW, following the publishing of a statement about MIT's position on AGW by MIT's President STILL GET THE SCIENCE BADLY WRONG! still spout AGW denialist talking points as if they had some validity or bore some resemblance to reality. Nonsense posted as “fact” and accepted at face-value with no mention or correction or pushback from the “moderators”. What exactly are the moderators “moderating”?

This clearly demonstrates that what ever effort at education and outreach the MIT President and other MIT “leaders” have done and are doing, it is still no where near enough.

If the effort has not been enough to convince MIT graduates, who are required to understand the basics of science to graduate, what hope is there that this effort will convince the general public and politicians?

The value of the fossil fuel investments in the MIT endowment are likely to drop dramatically if there is any credible political agreement in Paris on limiting CO2 emissions. MIT divesting before then will avoid that loss, and will likely make agreement in Paris more likely and more effective.

Frieser Ed SE84

Tue, 11/24/2015 6:24am

Progress is better to be planned by change in organization.
How about MIT creating "the World database" (perhaps for/with UN) for all major fields of environmental improvemet and valuation. Defining what really helps and what is placebo, Open to everybody as a reference and setting a price on every aspect of it. How can I find today the state of art of: solar energy ? of Wastewater treatment (biological)..... you name it.
I am sure, if MIT sets up a major institution, MIT are able to fund it, that it is able to give advice and data to goverments, to Enegy poloitics to inventors like our MITís all over the world.
Re. CHINA and other polluters Another organisatzional Tool,
China is governed by a "communiist" party they have troble loosing grip and credibility. The public wants "clanair, water.... What do they get ? punishment if they supply proof, because somebody is always loosing power and money if the deal properly with the problems.
A soulution might be China starts a program for the "party" and their leaders to improove the environment. In all leading positions they have Managers and a twin from the "party" watching and delaying . Today they are educated people, frustrated because they feel underused. Give them the task the power and BUDGET to improve the enviroment on national, state, provinces city, institutions, universities..and keep them accountable. If they are sucessful the party gets new trust and public acceptance.
A win win, MIT can help promote and develope such program and thus help the world. We retired alumni can be organized to help, Best luck Edwin

Dominick Zito 76

Mon, 11/23/2015 4:26pm

So in 1970 as a founding member of Students Against Violence to the Environment (SAVE) we crusaded to ban the burning of leaves since the increased albedo that their floating ashes caused in the atmosphere reflected the sun's radiation away from the planet and cooling. Look it up if you don't remember.
And it worked. Leaves cannot be burned in most locales and the global cooling has ceased.
As far as adding CO2 to the atmosphere is concerned, the bulk of the CO2 is locked up in limestone, not hydrocarbons, by 5 orders of magnitude and all of that CO@ was once in the atmosphere where it fed the diatoms who eventually died and fell to the ocean floor where their shells eventually became... limestone.
Finally, sea levels vary across the world and throughout the day (ever hear of tides?). It is great hubris to think Cambridge was and never should be under water, especially when we remember it's all essentially landfill.

You want to tackle climate change as an intellectual exercise, fine. But don't make it expensive government policy to have it as an official enemy. That's a form of tulipomania, endowing something worthless with a great value by virtue of its popularity.

Mike McNutt '69

Sun, 11/22/2015 4:38am

My suggestion is to stop wasting my Alumni Fund contributions on idiotic climate change programs. The climate has been changing for four billion years. About 1000 years ago, Leif Ericson founded a colony on Greenland which was quite warm and habitable. However, they had to abandon it in less than 100 years when the temperatures dropped to about where they are now. No one knows exactly why the temperatures were temporarily higher, but it's pretty sure it wasn't human activity. The models being used to predict disaster are ridiculously inaccurate over even a few years. What is wrong with you people?

Nashville Jammer

Sun, 11/22/2015 2:44am

I'm a Course II graduate from the late 70's who went on to graduate studies at The Farm, including geology and geophysics. Edward Lorenz must be turning over in his grave to see how far MIT has fallen. Climate change? Real, duh. Caused by humans as opposed to the Titanic Forces of Nature? Rubbish, backed up by rubbish science and critically-flawed GIGO computer simulation, force-fed by Profits of Doom who are all to eager to push a consensus that will keep them in the hunt for fame (think Oscars, Nobels) and fortune (think billions blown annually in spectacularly unsuccessful attempts to model and forecast). Stop Climate Change? Lord, save us from these morons. The next Ice Age can't get here soon enough for me, just to see the look of bewilderment on the face of all these technical sheep. (Well, a bit unlikely I'll live to see it, but one can always hope.)

Elwin C. Penski

Sat, 11/21/2015 3:05pm

The most responsible way to start a MIT Climate change study would study the changes in solar energy output history if the data is available. If not, start the study. Solar energy output variations could occur for dozens of reasons. I have read Russians have been studying this, but I cannot read Russian.

Human output of carbon dioxide is a major factor, but there are many other factors like heat transfer, cloud reflection, energy loss. etc. that must be considered. I have tried to do some physical chemistry calculations, but I and other experts cannot find well documented reliable vapor pressure and thermochemistry data on water.

El Penski, MIT PhD candidate 1957-1960,

George Stimmel

Sat, 11/21/2015 12:27pm

One of the things that I learned at MIT and in industry is to hold back on drastic measures until you really understand what you're dealing with. As a very famous alumnus said on national TV, science must take precedence over PR, nature will not be fooled.

Edgar Mueller

Sat, 11/21/2015 12:26pm

Please consider hiring me for one of your proposed centers. I studied energy conversion, am interested and currently unemployed due to hiring discrimination towards those who don't fit a mold, over 40 white, male, etc. I can self-relocate immediately, travel, etc.
Thank you,
Edgar Mueller MS, MBA

Edgar Mueller

Sat, 11/21/2015 12:20pm

Since China is the world's largest polluter, and it does not prioritize cleaning up enough, all goods purchased from China by MIT (and America), even indirectly, should have heavy tariffs assessed based on their estimated contribution to pollution, etc. MIT should boycott all of those goods who exceed a defined pollution threshold and divest from all companies with Chinese manufacturing plants that exceed certain thresholds. The same should apply to Indian production (and elsewhere, but those are the too biggest nations by far for climate contamination, and will be in our lifetimes).

David Whitlock

Sat, 11/21/2015 10:49am

We know what MIT needs to do; divest from fossil fuel investments.

When the financial community appreciates that most fossil fuel must stay in the ground to keep the Earth's atmosphere and climate within a habitable range, the value of most fossil fuel reserves will drop to zero. When that happens the value of fossil fuel companies based on their fossil fuel reserves will drop by ~$20 trillion.

We know why there is reluctance on the part of the "leaders" of MIT. The Koch brothers are large MIT donors. The Koch brothers are also a major funding source for anthropogenic climate change denial. Not surprising, much of their net worth is tied up in fossil fuel reserves and will also drop to zero when it is appreciated that those fossil fuel reserves cannot be extracted and burned.

My hypothesis (obvious to everyone with half a brain) is that the reluctance to divest the MIT endowment from fossil fuel investments is an effort to "brown nose" the Koch brothers so as to perhaps increase their generosity toward MIT in the future.

The recent analysis showing that Eocene CO2 levels were only ~700 ppm and not 1300 ppm puts a new urgency on CO2 reduction and lowering. The Eocene was ~8 C hotter than at present. An 8 C increase in temperature makes the land where about half of humans live uninhabitable because the wet bulb temperature goes above 35 C. It also melts all the ice and raises sea level some 70 meters.

As the major force behind anthropogenic climate change denial and the delay of implementing and the suppression of effective climate change mitigation strategies, the Koch brothers will go down in history as being responsible for more deaths than Mao, Stalin, and Hitler combined. Deaths could easily be in the billions, both from sea level rise and from increased wet bulb temperature.

Xenophobia of politicians (the same politicians funded by the Kochs to block climate change mitigation) are now trying to deny entry of a few thousand refugees. What are they going to do when climate change refugees are in the millions, hundreds of millions or billions? How many of them will be left to drown or die from hyperthermia? That is a rhetorical question. Allowing the climate to get to the point where decisions such as that are made is unacceptable to me as a human being.

I am an MIT grad. I am proud of the technical expertise I learned while at MIT. I am not proud of MIT being on the wrong side of history while trying to “suck-up” to the individuals who will be responsible for the largest mass death of humans ever. The Kochs are not stupid. They got an MIT education too. They know anthropogenic climate change is real. They just don't care that it will kill billions.

I know this message will be considered “offensive” and will likely be deleted. What is truly offensive is putting the Koch's egos and MIT's financial considerations ahead of a billion human lives.

Maybe the Koch's will dump a big load into the MIT endowment. Maybe enough to move the MIT campus when Cambridge floods. It won't be enough to move the city of Cambridge, or Boston, or any of the other places where billions of people live.

MIT won't get a penny from me until after it divests its fossil fuel assets.

Dave Whitlock; MS, BS, ChE, 1978.

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Tue, 11/17/2015 3:48pm

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Fri, 10/30/2015 7:25pm

President Reif,
I recommend that instead of a flat "no" to divestment, you leave that option open for future consideration, pending active cooperation and collaboration from the GHG-producing energy companies and utilities, and sufficient progress on their parts toward the goal of <2C.
"Unilateral disarmament" may put MIT in a weaker position to effect change and stimulate engagement than leaving that option open would.
Jim Brasunas '70