MIT responds to Trump's Paris withdrawal with facts and heart

ClimateX members, you are part of the MIT community, and we’re so glad you’ve joined us. Since last Friday, in response to President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, MIT has made crystal-clear its commitment to Paris and to ever-stronger climate action. The responses range from a letter by President L. Rafael Reif, to an emotional NPR interview with MIT researcher John C. Reilly, and other pointed media statements by MIT faculty and students.

Let’s begin with President Reif. On Friday, he issued an emphatic repudiation of Trump’s decision, and a charge to redouble our climate change efforts as an institution and a community. Because this viewpoint is so central to the ClimateX mission, we reproduce the entire letter here:


To the members of the MIT community,

Yesterday, the White House took the position that the Paris climate agreement — a landmark effort to combat global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions — was a bad deal for America. Other nations have made clear that the deal is not open to renegotiation. And unfortunately, there is no negotiating with the scientific facts.

I believe all of us have a responsibility to stand up for concerted global action to combat and adapt to climate change.

At MIT, we take great care to get the science right. The scientific consensus is overwhelming: As human activity emits more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the global average surface temperature will continue to rise, driving rising sea levels and extreme weather.

Global warming is not a distant problem — not distant in time or space. Communities across the United States and around the world are already experiencing the impacts. Without immediate and concerted action, the damaging consequences will grow worse. As the Pentagon describes it, climate change is a “threat multiplier,” because its direct effects intensify other challenges, including mass migrations and zero-sum conflicts over existential resources like water and food. In short, global warming and its consequences present risks too grave to gamble with.

A global problem demands a global solution. With the Paris Agreement, for the first time in history, 190+ nations agreed to work together to do something about it. In signing it, the U.S. was acting in concert with other nations, with the U.S. setting its own level of carbon reductions. The truth is that unless every nation joins in the solution, every nation will join in the suffering.

To solve this global problem, we must transform the global energy status quo. The Paris Agreement is an important beginning: a mechanism that drives progress on emissions right away and speeds up progress over time. (Incidentally, MIT announced its own greenhouse gas reduction goal in October 2015, a month before the Paris conference, with our Plan for Action on Climate Change, which commits us to reducing our campus emissions at least 32 percent by 2030.) With this running start, humanity has time to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. But the longer we hesitate, the lower the odds of success; the carbon dioxide our cars and power plants emit today will linger in the atmosphere for a thousand years.

Climate change arguably represents the greatest threat of this generation. Fortunately, it also represents a tremendous opportunity. Already, hundreds of thousands of Americans work in the clean energy sector, and growth in clean energy jobs is rising fast: In 2016 alone, solar industry employment grew by 25 percent, while wind jobs grew 32 percent. As a nation, if we choose to invest in the relevant research, we have the opportunity to continue to lead, developing new energy technologies that will generate high-value exports and high-quality American jobs — the jobs of the future. That is in no way to minimize the disruption that the changing energy economy will cause to some workers and regions. But the solution to that problem is not to deny scientific facts and give away economic opportunity. If we don’t seize this chance, other nations certainly will. By withdrawing from the Paris accord, the U.S. is surrendering leadership in a priceless global market.

I am encouraged, however, to see so much leadership at the state and city level, in industry and at universities — here in Massachusetts and nationwide.

Time and again, this country has risen to civilizational challenges with a sense of optimism, creativity and drive. I hope that the people of the United States will — as a matter of service to the nation and the world — continue to take the lead in pursuing a carbon-free future.

In this work, the people of MIT have a special role to play. I look forward to working with you as we step up to the challenge.


L. Rafael Reif


You may have heard that in his June 1 announcement, President Trump dramatically misrepresented an MIT study from the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change -- claiming that MIT said that the climate impact of Paris would be negligible, reducing global temperature rise “by less than 0.2 degrees Celsius in 2100.” The MIT study said nothing of the kind. The MIT Climate Action Plan includes a commitment to take on climate change disinformation, and especially when it so directly misrepresents the work of MIT researchers. Read the official MIT statement laying out the facts of this study and its solid support for the Paris Accord.

Meanwhile, plenty of MIT people have been adding their own voices in recent days. Among them: Dr. John C. Reilly, co-director of the Joint Program group whose study was misrepresented by Trump, spoke to WGBH/National Public Radio All Things Considered about the study and the potentially tragic implications of its misappropriation. MIT Physics Professor (and former US Energy Secretary) Ernest Moniz wrote a compelling op-ed in the Boston Globe, rejecting Trump’s abandonment of US leadership on climate. And MIT PhD student Josué Lopez (featured in a ClimateX video on justice and ethics) shared with USA Today the perspective held by many students that “[Trump] and his administration have blatantly disregarded the well-being of my and future generations.”

How will this action by President Trump affect your own climate change efforts? Are you surprised by how it’s played out so far? What conversations are you having in your communities? We’d like to hear from you, whether a reply to this post, a new post of your own, or a direct feedback message to the ClimateX team.



Laura Howells's picture

It's looking more and more

It's looking more and more like people and organizations all over the US are standing up to Trump's decision - local communities, mayors, colleges and universities...

There are definitely local movements making big steps in the right direction.

My question is, how do we remain relevant and useful in global climate change without the backing of the Trump administration?