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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