Determined to stay "as long as it takes," students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Thursday are staging a sit-in outside the president’s office to demand that the university heed the call of thousands of its students and a presidential advisory committee by divesting from fossil fuels.
Sparking the direct action was a five-year climate action plan (pdf) issued Wednesday by MIT President L. Rafael Reif that shuns divestment and instead stresses the need to "bring [the fossil fuel] industry closer."
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Referencing the announcement last week by CEOs of ten of the world's fossil fuel giants in support of the UN's climate goals, the plan states: "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."
"The plan is too little, too late," PhD student Geoffrey Supran, a member of the president climate advisory committee and of the student group Fossil Free MIT, told Common Dreams. "When it comes to divestment, the president chooses to ignore all the voices calling for climate action and does the opposite and brings industry closer," he said as he was taking part in the sit-in.
The sit-in is "really about bearing witness to the failure of leadership at MIT to respond to those specific calls," he said.
Those voices include over 3,500 MIT students who've signed a petition calling on President Reif to divest the university's holdings from the fossil fuel industry, as well as the support stated (pdf) in June by three-quarters of the president's climate advisory committee for divestment from companies engaged in coal and tar sands extraction.
"That's what we most urgently want to see," Supran continued. "The beginning of divestment from fossil fuel companies starting with coal and tar sands." He added that another main concern was to have MIT divest from climate change denying corporations.
"Divestment from coal and tar sands is a no-brainer, and would have unified rather than ostracized MIT’s community," Supran explained in a media statement. "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."
MIT's ties to the industry are "tremendous," Supran said. Yet, as PhD student Jeremy Poindexter explained in a statement, "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."
The number of those taking part in the sit-in was fluctuating between 8 and 12, Supran said, with one faculty member, philosophy professor Kieran Setiya, already joining in.
The action— forced "because MIT has put money before morals and its students' futures"—was not taken lightly, as Supran said it definitely brought the engineers and scientists out of their comfort zone in lab. But after three years of failed negotiations with the president, Supran said, "we have nothing else but our bodies" to make our point. "They forced our hand."