MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXVIII No. 4
March / April 2016
Some Steps Forward on Climate Action,
More Needed
Nuclear Weapons Divestment
Announced at MIT Conference
An Update on Climate Action
MIT and the Climate Challenge:
The Need for More Than Technical Solutions
An Updated Suggestion
Regarding Climate Change
A Century in Cambridge
Does MIT Really Need a Faculty Senate?
MIT Engineering Systems Division R. I. P.
LabArchives: Store and Organize
Your Research Data Online
Asking the Important Questions
Replanting Our Social
and Emotional Landscape
Defects in the MITIMCo Proposals
Questioning Construction Plans
for Kendall Square
Status of World Nuclear Forces
Printable Version


An Updated Suggestion Regarding Climate Change

To The Faculty Newsletter:

Individually, we MIT faculty tend to be a hyper creative lot, although collectively, we tend to be cautious and reserved, especially with regard to curricula and governing ourselves. We also tend to sometimes sigh when the rest of the world does not trust science and seems to act in a not-so-rational manner. Hence I think it’s time we step back and look into the mirror so we can see that although we may have super brains, our feet are soon to be held to the fire.

Specifically, you may have noticed, if you have gone outside much in the last few years, the weather is on average a bit on the warm side of odd. And recently it’s been downright whacky all over. An anomaly? If we believe ourselves and extrapolate, global warming is probably going to wipe us out, and low-lying MIT will be in the first wave. It may be from extreme temperatures or something far more sinister such as the inability to effectively perpetuate our species due to something like the Zika virus. Maybe rising waters will force us to move to Montana or Manitoba so we can continue to use the letters MIT!

Meanwhile, the world looks to MIT for guidance, and thus when it comes to global warming, if it sees us going about business as usual with a few lukewarm efforts on energy and the environment but overall no major institution-wide change in approach or habits, it shall do the same. We are thus probably all doomed, because Nature does not give a damn what happens to humans. Something will evolve to take our place and the planet will keep surfing through space on the gravity waves of time.

Let’s simply start with the observation that perhaps nowhere but in academia are there so many smart people all toiling to solve the same old problems with known solutions! Then let us realize that we are human and often respond in an all too human way to challenges, such as students maximizing energy use on one day and then minimizing it on the next to win an award for the biggest change. Or, just as curious, we base our promotion heavily on how much we all like each other’s work, so publishing in a journal appears to be far more important than actually applying results in the real world. So what’s a geeky institution like us to do? It’s time for a FUNdaMENTAL change – Fun? Yes! Mental? Absolutely!

I believe the key lies in a symbiotic approach: we need to infuse our tenure and promotion process with a weighty consideration for how well energy and environment issues are woven into the fabric of our teaching, research, and outreach application with industry. Just about every topic in at least the GIRs can have energy and environment examples and homework problems. It does not all have to be about energy and environment, but if every topic had at least a few such questions, it would go a long way to sensitizing our students and the rest of the world to the fundamental nature of the problems we face, and get more people thinking about solutions.

We must not be smug in our self-assurance that we often already put out calls for curriculum development proposals. We assume that honey is the best way to attract bees, BUT it takes bees to make honey and it’s easy to get stung and discouraged. We must be sure to cultivate the soil and plant the seeds of the future such that they perennially bloom for the good of us all.

Alexander Slocum
Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering


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