Michael Bloomberg speaks at Commencement

Bloomberg announces launch of environmental initiative Beyond Carbon

At MIT’s Commencement June 8, 1,084 graduates received bachelor’s degrees, 1,461 graduates received master’s degrees, and 11 graduates received engineer’s degrees, Mary Callahan, registrar and senior associate dean, wrote in an email to The Tech. At the doctoral hooding ceremony June 7, 534 graduates received doctoral degrees.  

Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City and founder and CEO of Bloomberg L.P., a financial technology company, addressed the Class of 2019.

In his speech, Bloomberg announced the launch of Beyond Carbon, a climate action initiative, by Bloomberg Philanthropies, his charitable foundation. Bloomberg said he would commit $500 million dollars to the initiative.

Bloomberg said that the mission of the graduates’ generation was climate change, and compared solving the climate crisis to NASA’s Apollo 11 mission to the moon in the 1960s. The fiftieth anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon will take place July 20. Bloomberg noted that MIT designed the spacecraft’s navigation and controls system, and that Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin ScD ’63 was educated at MIT.

Bloomberg said that stopping the climate crisis is now a political, rather than scientific, challenge, and referenced solar and wind energy, electric cars, and fuel cells as already existing scientific advances that are curbing the climate crisis. He said, “The question is why the hell are we doing it so slowly?”

Bloomberg said that he expected the MIT engineering graduates to see “politics” as “a dirty word,” noting that he has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. “I have three words for you: get over it,” he told them.

Beyond Carbon’s goal is to bring the U.S. to a “100 percent cleaner economy” by investing in job creation, cleaner air and water, cheaper power, more access to transportation, and less congested roads, Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg said that Beyond Carbon would defeat in the courts Environmental Protection Agency legislation that has rolled back protections for clean air and water.

Beyond Carbon has four main fronts, Bloomberg said. The first is to phase out coal-fired power plants by 2030.

The initiative’s second front is to prevent the construction of new gas plants, since renewable energy will be cheaper by their time of completion, Bloomberg said, noting that Los Angeles is already doing so.

The third is to support government officials and grassroots organizations pushing for pollution-free buildings, waste-free energy, public transportation access, electric cars, and other advancers of clean energy.  

Finally, Beyond Carbon will work to get political candidates advancing clean energy elected into office.

Bloomberg acknowledged that some jobs will be lost as the U.S. moves to cleaner energy. He said that Beyond Carbon will help local organizations in Appalachia and the western mountain states to support or retrain those losing their jobs in this transition, including miners.

“We need your voices, we need your votes, and we need you to help lead us where Washington will not. It may be a moonshot. But it’s the only shot we’ve got,” Bloomberg said. “As you leave this campus, I hope you will carry with you MIT’s tradition of taking and making moonshots. Be ambitious in every facet of your life. And don’t ever let something stop you because people say it’s impossible.”

President L. Rafael Reif delivered his charge to the graduates. He said that he hoped the graduates had learned that the best work is done not by “one superstar,” but by teams, noting that thousands of people at MIT and NASA made the Apollo 11 moon landing possible.

Reif asked the graduates to “Hack the world, until you make the world a little more like MIT,” as he has done at the past several commencements.

“And because the people of MIT also like to fix things that are broken, as you strive to hack the world, please try to heal the world, too. Our society is like a big, complicated family in the midst of a terrible argument,” Reif said.

In his address, Graduate Student Council President Peter Su G told the graduates that solving problems will require them to work across disciplines and praised the diversity, both in background and field of study, at MIT.

Su encouraged the scientists, engineers, and businesspeople among the graduates to think about the “social and ethical implications” of their work, not only its technical aspects. As for the graduates who studied the social sciences and humanities, “Wow, do the rest of us desperately need your insight and perspective more than ever,” Su said.

Senior Class President Trevor McMichael ’19 urged the graduates to continue the friendships they have made at MIT in his address, giving examples of “pset buddies,” friends who made breaks spent at MIT away from family enjoyable, and friends who listened to each others’ problems. In their post-graduation futures, the graduates likely will not live with “20-year-olds [they] have known for four years,” and “moments of genuine personal connection” will be harder to make happen, McMichael said.

“If someone is important to you, do not let them go. Call them, plan to meet them, go the extra mile for them. Because if they helped you through this wild journey called MIT, that is a person worth holding onto,” McMichael said.

Unlike past graduating classes, the undergraduate class of 2019 did not present a senior gift, because this year, MIT switched to a Student Philanthropy Program involving all four undergraduate classes, Susan Grosel, executive director of the MIT Annual Fund, wrote in an email to The Tech. This student philanthropy model will be in effect next year, too, she wrote.