About 70 people gathered for a vigil in Lobby 10 Monday to commemorate the start of month 2 of Fossil Free MIT’s sit-in and collectively acknowledge that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are not likely to ever again drop below 400 parts per million.
The student group’s three demands were enumerated on a smaller sign there: “divest from coal and tar sands,” “make the campus carbon neutral by 2040,” and “address climate disinformation by establishing an ethics advisory council.”
The vigil included several artistic performances, including poetry written specifically to bring attention to climate change and several songs like “Big Yellow Taxi” which famously admonishes that “they’ve paved paradise to put up a parking lot” and the operatic Andrea Bocelli song “Canto Della Terra” (“Song of the Earth”).
Graduate student Geoffrey Supran, a Fossil Free leader, gave a short but dramatic speech.
“Hold your breath, walk into the wind, and open the valve,” he began solemnly, summarizing a procedure for taking air samples.
“We organized tonight’s vigil because the Tuesday before last, Veterans’ Day, silently, innocuously, without any fanfare … the planet’s CO2 levels emerged above 400 parts per million, higher than they’ve ever been for over 3 million years, and evidence suggests they’ll never come back down again,” he told the gathered crowd, explaining that scientists believe that carbon dioxide levels below 350 parts per million are needed to prevent climate change.
While carbon levels had reached 400 ppm before, they have always come down again with the normal seasonal variation. Scientists do not believe that seasonal variation will cause carbon levels to dip below 400 again.
Supran also said that 2015 is expected to be the hottest year in recorded history “by a long shot.”
While many Fossil Free members were at the vigil, one member, graduate student Patrick Brown, held down the fort at the month-old 24-hour sit-in outside President L. Rafael Reif’s office one floor up.
The sit-in began after MIT announced its climate change “action plan,” which included a number of research initiatives and on-campus efforts but notably did not accede to demands for MIT withdraw investments in fossil fuel companies.
Brown said that Fossil Free planned to continue the sit-in through Thanksgiving break.