Letter from the Director: February 2017

These are trying times; disruptive times. Recent successes to protect our wild lands and natural capital as well as move toward long term stabilization and reduction of global carbon emissions are facing the prospect of rollbacks and wholesale repudiation. The nation’s commitment to climate action is downshifting even while a massive crack in Antarctica’s Larsen ice shelf continues to grow.[1] Only months after its designation, the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah may see expanded mining of oil, gas, potash and uranium threatening a unique American place.[3] The US commitment to the COP21 climate agreement is uncertain[4] and many efforts to rescue and archive valuable scientific data from dozens of government agencies are underway.[4][5] For the foreseeable future we can be most certain of great uncertainty in policy-making despite the constantly mounting evidence of ever more dire consequences of climate change.

Yet, despite the dramatic swing of the federal pendulum away from strong and sustained commitments to steward the environment and tackle climate change head-on, the ESI is doubly motivated. The time is now. In fact, there could not be a better time and we are not alone in this sentiment. Conservative elder statesmen in the US are advocating that the time is right for a carbon tax.[6] Private investment in clean energy continues to soar.[7] MIT’s role is unchanged. Serving our country and the world in these trying and disruptive times is needed now more than ever. At the ESI, acknowledging all of this is just the beginning. Massive change means massive opportunity: conditions are ripe for breakthroughs, paradigm shifts, and transformation. In the coming weeks and months, we will do our part by delivering on the ESI mission to advance science, engineering, policy and social science, design, the humanities, and the arts towards a people-centric and planet-positive future.

We look forward to having you join us to mobilize our community, generate opportunities for engagement, and build upon MIT’s deep and unwavering commitment to humane and effective climate action.

John E. Fernández, Director
February 2017
Cambridge, Massachusetts

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/02/07/science/earth/antarctic-crack.html?_r=0

[2] http://www.npr.org/2017/02/05/513492389/utah-representative-wants-bears-ears-gone-and-he-wants-trump-to-do-it

[3] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-epa-idUSKBN15E1MM

[4] https://www.pri.org/stories/2017-01-26/people-around-world-are-helping-us-save-its-climate-data

[5] https://libraries.mit.edu/news/datarescue-mit/24116/

[6] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/07/science/a-conservative-climate-solution-republican-group-calls-for-carbon-tax.html

[7] http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikescott/2017/01/19/clean-energy-will-thrive-in-2017-because-its-cheap-and-companies-want-to-buy-it/#3f264982451e