Richard Heinberg: Our Counterpoint Speaker

Portrait of Richard HeinbergIt is my pleasure to announce that Richard Heinberg, the Senior Fellow-in-Residence of the Post Carbon Institute, will be speaking as an alternative speaker to the official speaker, Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil.

Many of the students graduating this year find that Exxon’s disinformation campaign and its efforts to undermine Americans’ trust in their scientific institutions are entirely incompatible with their values and their future careers. Many students have elected to sit-out from Rex Tillerson’s speech, and will be joining the rest of the commencement celebration afterwards. Instead, these students will be well-wished into their career by Richard Heinberg’s speech, that afternoon.

Update: The university has agreed to support the event. Richard Heinberg will be speaking on the WPI Quad stage (where the official ceremony is situated) at 3 PM. Parents, students, members of the community at large: all are welcome to come hear him speak.                                                                                                    When: Saturday, May 14 · 3:00pm – 4:30pm, on the Main Quad stage,      Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA 01609.                                              Attend the facebook event                                                                                                 Spread the word:  Invitation Flier to Richard Heinberg’s Speech

Richard Heinberg’s work is a powerful symbol of our wishes for WPI: a university which, in line with its budding green image, chooses to honor someone with leadership and vision, rather than a baron of the past, a force of the status quo.

Richard’s address will be followed by celebratory music by the dynamic, folk-music duo Magpie known for their hard-hitting topical songs.

With the power of their delivery, Terry and Greg are internationally renowned for their musical work in the environmental movement, which has supported notable groups such as the National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, the National Wildlife Refuge System, the National Park Service, and Hudson River Sloop Clearwater.

“Magpie performs songs of and for the Earth.  The absolute perfection and clarity of their arrangements and harmonies is masterful and stunningly emotional.  They are among the finest songwriters and performers of our era.”  – Baltimore Folk Music Society

Q. How are you ensuring respect for the ceremony?

We discourage anyone attending commencement from disturbing the ceremony. Please read our statement of respect for seniors.

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Epilogue: Courteous Debate and Respectful Negotiations

It has now been just over one month since the counterpoint commencement.

First we’d like to thank everyone who helped make this event a success. You know who you are and we couldn’t have done it without you. With your help, we reached well over 1 million people through our media coverage in the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, and ABC Channel 5 Boston. Thanks again the to the Post Carbon Institute for playing a huge role in that media success. Special thanks goes to Richard Heinberg for his excellent address and passion for the cause.

We would also like to thank the WPI administration for providing the main stage for our event and printing our programs. Institutions of higher education inspire so much respect exactly because they have been entrusted with such an important responsibility: to seek the truth, and to encourage all the vivid debates, research, and conversations needed to find it. We thank WPI for holding true to this ideal.

Again, thanks to Magpie for their inspiration music. Thanks to all the faculty and all the alumni who stood by us when the going got tough. We believe your courage to speak out with us made a huge difference in making this real.

We encourage you to read this positive statement about the event from President Dennis Berkey in the Chronicle of Higher Education. It provides a good summary of events, with one amendment. The administration only agreed to resume the negotiations when, after they declared that students who walked out would not be allowed receive their diplomas on stage, we held strong, and maintained our commitment to walk out. We needed to symbolically demonstrate our grievances — that standing for a stable, livable future was more important to us than being on stage. But more importantly, it seemed clear that a mutually agreeable solution was within reach. Yet, the administration returned to the negotiation table only after their position was widely reported in the media as needlessly punitive, and only after the WPI alumni from around the country threatened to withdraw their yearly donations to the school. And indeed, once we started talking again, we quickly found an arrangement: the conscientious objectors would simply arrive after the CEO’s address. There was no longer a need to walk out.

Craig K. Comstock provides another heart-warming account of the counterpoint in an Op-Ed in the Huffington Post. You can also watch most of the event yourself on YouTube.

We’ll be keeping this website up for posterity. Hopefully, it will help inspire future activists and campus leaders by reminding them just how much a respectful, dedicated group can achieve in a month and a half. We hope WPI students and college students everywhere build off this precedent, making the call for climate justice stronger and stronger, until it rings from every sector of society.

As for WPI, we hear the head of the Dept. of Energy is speaking next year. While we recognize its progress on renewable energy development, we are also very concerned about the impact that oil from Canadian tar sands will have on our future. As Bill McKibben writes:

“To call this project a horror is serious understatement. The tar sands have wrecked huge parts of Alberta, disrupting ways of life in indigenous communities—First Nations communities in Canada, and tribes along the pipeline route in the U.S. have demanded the destruction cease. The pipeline crosses crucial areas like the Oglalla Aquifer where a spill would be disastrous—and though the pipeline companies insist they are using ‘state of the art’ technologies that should leak only once every 7 years, the precursor pipeline and its pumping stations have leaked a dozen times in the past year. These  local impacts alone would be cause enough to block such a plan. But the Keystone Pipeline would also be a fifteen hundred mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent, a way to make it easier and faster to trigger the final overheating of our planet, the one place to which we are all indigenous… As the climatologist Jim Hansen (one of the signatories to this letter) explained, if we have any chance of getting back to a stable climate ‘the principal requirement is that coal emissions must be phased out by 2030 and unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, must be left in the ground.’ In other words, he added, ‘if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over.'”
 

If the new pipeline is approved, you better believe we’ll have something to say about it.

With joy and resolve,

WPI Students for a Just and Stable Future

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Stand with Us at Commencement!

Posted on behalf of Zakkai Kaufmann-Rogoff

Dear Fellow Seniors,

You may be aware that a group of WPI students, including myself, do not support the choice of ExxonMobil’s CEO as our commencement speaker. ExxonMobil, though a profitable corporation, has consistently acted against the goals of social and environmental justice. Just recently, ExxonMobil continued its record of irresponsibility by knowingly poisoning groundwater(link 1 below) in New York against the warnings of its own scientists and engineers. Most alarmingly, ExxonMobil has funded unscientific disinformation campaigns (2) to sow manufactured doubt about the science of the well-documented phenomenon of climate change. Even though ExxonMobil now recognizes this well-documented science and has apologized for its irresponsible funding, the latest reports indicate that they are actually continuing to fund disinformation groups (3). Furthermore, the company’s policies for addressing the severity of the global warming, which has been called the greatest threat to human health in the 21st century, are wholly inadequate (4).

Accepting ExxonMobil chief Rex Tillerson as our commencement speaker is an affirmation that we, as new graduates, accept his blessings and accept him as a role model for our participation in the workforce. We definitely do not condone the actions of ExxonMobil and we hope that you will join us in attending an alternate commencement address. For details on ExxonMobil’s history of unethical behavior and our stance against the company, see the letter signed by nearly two dozen WPI faculty members (5) and check out our website (6). We are supported (7) in our dissent by organizations such as the international 350.org and the Post Carbon Institute.

With help from many students, our group has come to an agreement with the administration to allow dissenting seniors to respectfully (8) stand up for their values at commencement. You are warmly invited to join us in one or both of these actions:

1. Attend a second commencement address delivered by famed sustainability author Richard Heinberg (9) of the Post Carbon Institute (10) right after commencement. This address stands in contrast to the address given by Rex Tillerson, but attending one does not bar you from attending the other. To hear Mr. Heinberg talk, please reconvene at 3:00 PM after the reception at the commencement stage. Please invite your friends and family to attend this address as well!

2. Deny your attendance at Rex Tillerson’s address. If you choose (11) to do this, you will still have your name called and walk across the stage. Students wishing to join us in this powerful statement should immediately read the instructions at the bottom of this email. Please note that our goal in doing this is not to not listen to Mr. Tillerson, but to show the community that we do not accept him as the figurehead of our graduation, we do not recognize him as a role model, and we do not want his wishes for our future. Sitting out is a symbol of commitment to an economically and ecologically responsible future.

We hope that you and your family decide to join us at Richard Heinberg’s address at 3:00 PM, and we welcome you to stand with us in denying attendance at Rex Tillerson’s speech.

Thank you.

Sincerely, Zakkai Kauffman-Rogoff, Class of 2011

WPI Students for a Just and Stable Future

To Deny Your Attendance at Rex Tillerson’s Address:

1. Immediately fill out WPI’s form at http://www.wpi.edu/news/commencement/form-agreement.html. It is due by May 11th, tomorrow!

2. On the day of graduation (May 14th), meet at 9:30 AM at the upper level of Alumni Gymnasium (the basketball court). If it is raining, meet instead at the Odeum in the Campus center. Whether or not the rain location will be used will be posted on the WPI homepage by 6:00 AM on the 14th.

Students not attending Rex Tillerson’s address will socialize in the gymnasium while the rest of the class lines up to prepare for commencement (9:30 – 11:00) and attends the body of the commencement (11:00 – roughly 12:00). After the body of the commencement is complete, the dissenting students will join the commencement and sit down with the rest of the class, upon which students will begin receiving their diplomas. Instead of receiving a diploma, dissenting students will receive a diploma case, and then pick up their diplomas at the Registrar’s Office by May 16th or receive them in the mail. This empty case will look exactly the same as a diploma to the audience (ie no one will be able to tell the inside of it is blank.)

The ceremony will end soon after the diplomas are distributed. After a break to attend the reception, we will reconvene at 3:00 the commencement stage to hear Mr. Heinberg give his counterpoint address.

1. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/10/20/us-energy-exxonmobil-idUSTRE59I4UU20091020>

2. <http://www.ucsusa.org/news/press_release/ExxonMobil-GlobalWarming-tobacco.html>

3. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jul/01/exxon-mobil-climate-change-sceptics-funding>

4. <http://wpi2011.wordpress.com/against/>

5. <http://wpi2011.wordpress.com/2011/04/26/we-dissent-letter-from-wpi-faculty/>

6. <http://wpi2011.wordpress.com/>

7. <http://wpi2011.wordpress.com/supporters/>

8. <http://wpi2011.wordpress.com/respect-for-seniors/>

9. <https://exchange.wpi.edu/owa/redir.aspx?C=3abe8e5400cd459eba045c900cb850e4&URL=http%3A%2F%2Frichardheinberg.com%2F>

10. <https://exchange.wpi.edu/owa/redir.aspx?C=3abe8e5400cd459eba045c900cb850e4&URL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.postcarbon.org%2F>

11. <http://wpi2011.wordpress.com/dissenting-seniors/>

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Letter to WPI President Berkey

Dear President Berkey,

My name is Linnea Palmer Paton and I write to you as a representative of the students who are upset that Rex Tillerson will be giving the commencement address.

As CEO of ExxonMobil, he has personally threatened the peace and prosperity of our futures by condemning us to a world wrought with the unrest and devastation caused by rapid climate change. Not only has ExxonMobil recently funded disinformation on climate change (a disgrace to a scientific institution such as ours), Tillerson has insisted that fossil fuels will remain the primary fuel source for decades to come despite recognizing the grim warnings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. By committing to a fossil fuel-based future, he condemns the people of many nations to dislocation, starvation, and death. Therefore, Tillerson has consistently shown that he values profits more than ethical decision-making and protecting our future.

ExxonMobil’s business model is based on environmental exploitation for short-term gain. This is not a model that our university should support. At the very least, we, as conscientious members of the WPI community and proud members of the Class of 2011, will not give Tillerson the honor of imparting on us his well-wishes (his blessings if you will) for our futures on our graduation day, when he is largely responsible for undermining them. Indeed, it goes against our conscience to remain seated during Tillerson’s speech as if we consent to its message of a prosperous future —a message that is unfounded by its bringer.

Not being allowed to receive our diplomas on stage is a small price that many of us are willing to pay for standing up for our values, our integrity, and our conscience.

And still, we are asking you to reconsider this decision. We have worked hard the past four years to earn the privilege to walk across the stage. This is not a privilege that should be withdrawn lightly. As a liberal institution, supposedly a bastion of respect for intellectual freedom, we believe that this is an unjust punishment for expressing our dissent. As you know, we have sought to walk out with as little disruption as possible while still remaining true to our values, and we have provided several options for doing so.

We would like to meet with you to discuss this further. We hope that you will sincerely consider our request.

With resolve,

Linnea M. Palmer Paton

WPI Students for a Just and Stable Future

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We Dissent — Letter from WPI Faculty

April 8, 2011

Dear President Berkey,

As members of the WPI faculty concerned with the moral and social standing of WPI and the condition of the global environment,we feel a special responsibility to respond publicly to WPI’s recent announcement that it has invited Rex Tillerson, President and CEO of the Exxon Mobil Corporation, to be this year’s Commencement speaker for the Class of  2011.  We do not believe this selection is appropriate for a university that prides itself on its concern for environmental sustainability.

According to the WPI mission statement, our goals include “form[ing] a deep appreciation of the interrelationships among basic knowledge, technological advance, and human need.”  Knowledge, that same statement reads, “is won not only for its own sake but also for the sake of the human community.”  We would ask, in what possible sense does the Exxon Mobil  Corporation represent the pursuit of knowledge for “human need” and “community”?

Besides being the largest publicly traded company in the world, Exxon Mobil is also one of greatest polluters on the face of the earth, the source of more carbon emissions than all but five of the largest nations in the world.

While the vast majority of scientists agree that anthropogenic climate change is happening, and that it poses a possibly catastrophic threat to the flora and fauna of the earth (including to our own species), Exxon Mobil has for years funneled tens of millions of dollars to political lobbyists and think-tanks to sow confusion among members of the public concerning the science of climate change.  Their strategy has worked:  despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that urgent action is needed right now to mitigate the future impacts of global warming, almost half of Americans are now climate change skeptics.  This has enabled oil companies like Exxon Mobil to continue reaping record-breaking profits, even as they have thwarted the creation of sane new energy policies.

While Rex Tillerson has professed a concern about climate change, there is so far no evidence that the corporation’s policies have changed at all since his ascension to the position of CEO (from President) in 2006.  Exxon Mobil continues to show itself to be indifferent to the ecological order and public health alike.  In 2009, the company was hit with a $105 million fine for knowingly polluting groundwater in New York. According to Reuters, “A federal jury in New York City ruled that ExxonMobil Corp. had polluted the city’s groundwater and ordered the oil giant to pay $105 million in damages….The city contended Exxon knew that gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether would contaminate groundwater if it leaked from the underground storage tanks at its retail stations. Exxon ignored warnings from its own scientists and engineers not to use MTBE in areas of the country that relied on groundwater for drinking water, the city said.”  Here in Massachusetts, in April 2010 the State ordered the company to pay $2.9 million for having “violated the state’s air pollution laws at its bulk gasoline terminals in Everett and Springfield.”  In 2009, just a year earlier, the US Attorney General announced a $6 million fine against Exxon Mobil for spilling 15,000 gallons of diesel fuel oil into the Mystic River.  But the company has engaged in similar behaviors and suffered similar fines throughout the world.  In April of last year, for example, the company agreed to pay fines for serious air pollution violations in Guam and the Marianas Islands, and so on. Twenty years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989, residents of Alaska are still waiting to receive the punitive damages the company owes them (by court order).

In recent years, WPI has engaged in laudable efforts to assess its ecological sustainability and resource use, with your own personal encouragement and leadership as President of the Institute.  It is precisely because we admire and applaud these efforts that we find the choice of Rex Tillerson as this year’s Commencement speaker to be so deeply puzzling. We believe that having the CEO of Exxon Mobil address our graduating students will only damage the reputation of our institution, by identifying us nationally with an archaic model of energy that is quite literally destroying the world.

The world is full of courageous individuals whose work is a boon to humankind, men and women of extraordinary talent and vision who every day show us what it means to take real risks, invent something to better society, to heal a hurting world.  Surely, as a distinguished university with a Mission Statement that defines our work as “academic inquiry for the betterment of society,” WPI deserves one of these individuals to come speak to our graduating students.  But the CEO of Exxon Mobil is not one of them.

We urge you to rescind this invitation and to turn instead to the recommendations put forward by this year’s Commencement Committee.  WPI deserves a speaker who has demonstrated an outstanding record of good citizenship and an abiding concern for the welfare of the planet.

Sincerely,

Prof. Bland Addison, History, Humanities and Arts
Prof. María Cevallos Warren, Spanish, Humanities and Arts
Prof. Joel J. Brattin, Literature, Humanities and Arts
Prof. Ulrike Brisson, German, Humanities and Arts                                                                
Prof. Constance Clark, History, Humanities and Arts.
Prof. David Dollenmayer, German, Humanities and Arts
Prof. Roger Gottlieb, Philosophy, Humanities and Arts
Prof. Margarita Halpine, Spanish, Humanities and Arts
Prof. James Hanlan, History, Humanities and Arts
Prof. Rob Krueger, Geography, Interdisciplinary and Global Studies, and Director of the Environmental Studies Program
Prof. Wes Mott, Literature, Humanities and Arts
Prof. Svetlana Nikitina, Literature, Coordinator of Interdisciplinary First Year Humanities, Humanities and Arts
Prof. Angel Rivera, Spanish and International Studies, Humanities and Arts
Prof. Josh Rosenstock, Art, Humanities and Arts
Prof. M. David Samson, Art History, Humanities and Arts
Prof. John Sanbonmatsu, Philosophy, Humanities and Arts
Prof. Ruth Smith, Religion, Humanities and Arts
Prof. Susan Vick, Drama/Theatre, Director of Theatre, Humanities and Arts
Prof. Stephen Weininger, Chemistry and Biochemistry (Emeritus)
Prof. Van Bluemel, Department of Physics (Emeritus)
Prof. Seth Tuler, Department of Interdisciplinary & Global Studies Division
Prof. Stephen J. Bitar, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

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XKCD On Global Warming

XKCD On Global Warming

XKCD On Global Warming

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Movie Screening: Out of Balance – Exxon Mobil’s Impact on Climate Change

“An informative and disturbing look at the reach of the ExxonMobil corporation.”

“An informative and disturbing look at the reach of the ExxonMobil corporation.”

Out of Balance: ExxonMobil’s Impact on Climate Change details how ExxonMobil has manipulated U.S. federal policy by funding front groups that create the illusion of a debate about global warming where there isn’t one.

This sowing of confusion is particularly dangerous due to the urgent need for immediate action to counter rapid climate change.

The Head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and renowned climate scientist, James Hansen, has said:

“If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggests that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm.”

Find out how ExxonMobil is undermining efforts to act quickly to bring the planet back to a stable climate trajectory.

THIS FRIDAY, April 22nd  (Earth Day!)
6:30 pm
WPI – Atwater Kent 116

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Rex Tillerson Speaking at WPI 2011 Commencement

Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon Mobil will be speaking at Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s 2011 Commencement. Many students and faculty are not happy.

Read our mission on the Against Exxon page.

You can read WPI’s announcement here.

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