In Praise of Civil Disagreement, Part 1.

Civil disobedience is discussed at length in a new book by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, “The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis” (Feb 2020), in careful, focused language that characterizes all of this remarkable book.

“The remarkable rise of Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future movement is showing us that the world is ready for direct action. Greta’s single, defiant act of civil disobedience—striking from school every Friday—has captured the zeitgeist. She inspired, in a relatively short period of time, a peaceful process for igniting and harnessing the anger of millions of young people in many countries and enrolling them in regular climate activism….”

From there the authors go on to basically update Thoreau, guiding their readers through the arguments in favor of and appropriate behavior during acts of civil disobedience.

My own focus is civil disagreement within universities and institutions. So much of climate activism takes the form of identifying obstacles, a person, office or institution who is getting in the way of all the wonderful things that otherwise would be happening.

And for me, that just doesn’t capture the reality of what the obstacles really are, or the challenges we face in doing more than just calling attention to the problem, important as that necessary first step is.

The following anecdote from MIT is an example of what I mean.

MIT Faculty don’t talk to each other

In the May-June 2018 Faculty Newsletter, two MIT faculty member contribute articles on climate change. One asks why MIT isn’t doing anything about “the most important problem of our time,” and the next provides an update on all the wonderful thing that MIT is doing. Both article are cary and depressing all on their own. But back to back, they provide a perfect snapshot of how MIT talks to itself.

Short answer: It doesn’t.

“I am pleased for this opportunity to share with you some thoughts about MIT’s progress under our Climate Action Plan (CAP).”

Maria Zuber, “An Update on MIT’s Climate Action Plan” (MIT Faculty Newsletter, May-June 2018)

First the scary and depressing

What is scary and depressing about Susan Silbey’s article is that, while quite detailed in regard to the threat that the world faces from climate change, she has no detail or specifics of any kind to offer in regard to what is holding MIT back. She only speaks in generalities. What is scary and depressing about this is that she most certainly knows exactly what is holding MIT back. Not only is she Chair of the MIT Faculty, she was also appointed to the 8-faculty committee that oversaw the development.


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Appendix 1: “Someone in Building 1 feel threatened by you.”

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The Carbon Costs of Dysfunction

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CEE is a very rich department

A list of the projects underway when I left Parsons.

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Mother Hen, Zero Sum, Private Idaho and the Tea Party

Before I tarted at the Parsons Lab, I had interviews with 4 Parsons faculty.

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When decent people lie

The Jeffrey Epstein investigation revealed MIT Executive Vice President and Treasurer Israel Ruiz’s significant role in that…story or scandal, take your pick. Ruiz said that his decision to leave MIT in the Spring semester is unrelated to that… which did you choose above?

The US Department of Education is currently investigating MIT for its $300 million partnership with Russia to build Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology outside Moscow. When the results of that investigation are released, it is reasonable to expect that we will see a similarly prominent role for Israel Ruiz.

MIT is absolutely unprepared for the fallout that is likely to occur when those results are released. Again and again and again, MIT responds to events after the fact, when forced to do so by public pressure or expose in the media. In the interest of cutting to the chase, what follows is what we know now. And please note, there’s no whistle-blowing going on here. It’s all news previously published that for some reason has never been put together piece by piece.

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What does academic web development have to do with climate change?

Drupal and MIT

I have struggled for 10+ years to make this case. I think I can make it now.

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My mother as teacher

My mother and I, Osterville 2008

My mother and I bought a used sewing machine at a garage sale ($25) and one day I asked her to show me some basic stitches. And she became for that half hour someone I had never seen before, nor ever saw again.

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“Mario Molina is no longer married to Luisa Molina”

When Mario Molina left MIT in 2004, he had for a brief time a message at the top of his official Nobel Laureate web page, a single headline in bold, uppercase lettering:


I went to work for Mario Molina in 1997, when he was an MIT Institute Professor and very much married to Luisa Molina, the Program Manager for his various research programs…

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My father thinks I don’t know how to rake leaves

My parents house on Cape Cod before they did any work on it.

My father died when he was 94, and thank god we had one crucial moment that shed light on all that had gone before. Being the good son that I sometimes tried to be, I was at my parents house raking leaves. And my father was standing beside me, miming the correct way to rake leaves. And telling me — loud enough to be heard a block away — that I was doing it wrong.

I can’t even begin to say how grateful I am for this moment.

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Charlize Theron talks about Jay Roach’s trust in her

I loved this conversation between Charlize Theron and Adam Driver, especially this moment when Charlize Theron talks about feeling her director’s trust in her and how that helped her performance.

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