Scientist Rebellion

Open letter to the Rector of the NTNU

Dear Rector Borg,

We are living in times of both climate and ecological emergencies (Trisos et al. 2020, Richards et al. 2021). The scientific background of these emergencies has been provided by tens of thousands of scientists around the world (Ripple et al. 2020, IPCC 2021, IPBES 2019). As scientists, we present our studies to our peers and communicate our findings to the public. Nevertheless, this knowledge has not brought about the changes needed.

The Norwegian National Research Ethics Committee (NNREC) states in its Guidelines that when, in the course of their work, researchers become aware of matters that they consider to be in conflict with ethical principles or their societal responsibility, they must have the opportunity and, depending on the circumstances, the duty, to act as whistleblower. At present, NTNU is not rising to the collective challenge with the urgency needed. According to the NNREC guidelines, universities must act as agents of change to catalyse the required societal transformation. Even though academics have been regarded as neutral and impartial, as possessors of great knowledge and understanding, there is a moral obligation to “provide leadership, and engage in advocacy and activism” to help drive transformative system changes (Gardner et al. 2021).

The vision of NTNU is to create knowledge for a better world, and it states that knowledge is a foundation for making wise choices. NTNU must therefore make wise choices, not only concerning its own impact on the environment, but also its impact on the whole of society. NTNU needs to publicly declare a climate and ecological emergency, recognising these as the most urgent, existential threats to humanity and the biosphere. NTNU needs to commit its intellectual and practical capacity to push forward the education, research and action needed to mitigate and face the climate and ecological crises.

Below, we list our demands to NTNU.

Demand 1: Phase out education and research aimed at continuing fossil fuel extraction

Staying within the limits set out by the Paris climate agreement requires ending all new investment in fossil fuels, and a rapid phasing out of the existing extraction. This requirement applies to academic institutions. We demand that:

  1. NTNU presents a plan to phase out research and education aimed specifically at continuing fossil fuel extraction. This should be reflected in the designs and definitions of the study and research programs.
  2. Funding received from the fossil fuel industry should not be used for the purpose of research and education aimed at continuing fossil fuel extraction.
  3. NTNU has transparent and regular public reporting including:

    • the amount of funding received from the fossil fuel industry and how this is distributed
    • the amount of research funding allocated for projects aimed at continuing fossil fuel extraction
    • the number of NTNU-graduates ending up working for the fossil fuel industry

Demand 2: Revise plans and targets for sustainability

The current targets of NTNU’s sustainability plan (“Miljøutviklingsplan”) for 2020-2030 are not specific and ambitious enough considering the severity of the crises. We demand that the current targets and measures are revisited and formulated according to SMART goal setting (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) (Doran 1981). We also demand for the following measures to be added to the plan:

  1. Catering at all events arranged by NTNU must be plant-based by default, and when possible, locally sourced. NTNU should immediately pressure SiT to follow the same practices in their cantinas on campus, as has already been demanded before.

  2. The process of booking travel with NTNU's travel agency needs to clearly display the environmental impact of different travel options, given that travel makes up one of the largest parts of academia’s carbon footprint (Klower et al. 2020).

  3. NTNU should actively encourage staff and students to take advantage of the campus area when teaching and developing sustainable practices (e.g. community gardens).

  4. To ensure that the revisited environmental development plan is accessible to all staff and students at NTNU, we demand that this plan is also available in English.

Demand 3: Integrate activism and advocacy in the work mandate

Advocacy, spanning from writing opinion pieces and engaging in public discussion to demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience, has the potential to drive societal change. Despite this, there is little engagement in advocacy and activism by academics (Gardener and Wordley 2019). Lack of engagement may in part be due to a perception that advocacy and activism may act to reduce their credibility (Gardener et al. 2021), despite studies indicating that advocacy and activism do not affect public opinion about the credibility of academics (Motta 2018, Kotcher et al. 2017, Cologna et al. 2021). Academics may be dissuaded from activism and outreach by the hypercompetitive atmosphere most research institutions cultivate, meaning time spent on advocacy and activism would reduce time spent on publications. There is already a long list of universities in the United States that support activism against social injustice and inequality, which NTNU can model itself after.

In pursuit of mainstream acceptance and encouragement of advocacy and activism within the university and our professional lives, we demand the following:

  1. Anti-discrimination regulations for employees with non-violent criminal records and reputation of activism and explicit acceptance of activism in the hiring process.
  2. Enable allocation of a minimum of 10% of working hours for advocacy.
  3. Provide employees with advocacy and public and political outreach training.
  4. Expand research assessment by incentivising and rewarding advocacy and political engagement.

Demand 4: Revise teaching on climate and ecological emergencies

NTNU must see that there is adequate mandatory teaching in sustainability in all study programs starting this fall. We demand:

  1. General and subject-specific teaching on the impacts of the climate and ecological emergencies on societies and ecosystems, and on how each discipline can contribute to a sustainable future.
  2. Support for teachers to revise their courses in response to these demands, e.g. by allocating more teaching hours, hiring teaching assistants, and providing workshops with environmental educators and peer-level support workshops.
  3. Mental health support for staff and students on climate paralysis, resulting from the overwhelming, previously neglected knowledge on the ongoing climate and ecological emergencies.

Closing words

NTNU leadership is capable of creating tangible change that will significantly impact societal responses to the climate and ecological crises. By responding to these demands NTNU would be defending scientific values and set a precedent for other institutions to follow in its footsteps, creating waves of awareness and action. We acknowledge the gravity of the changes we are calling for, and that implementing these demands may seem overwhelming. Nonetheless, embarking on this journey is the most sensible, pressing, and noble endeavour NTNU can undertake in response to humanity’s most urgent challenges. Only then would we, as NTNU, be proving ourselves to be producing knowledge for a better world.

We would be happy to engage in constructive dialogue to move forward together. For this, we would like to request a meeting and await an invitation at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely,
Scientist Rebellion (Trondheim)

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