Why Robert-Jan Smits should resign


My conclusion is that the President of our University, Robert-Jan Smits, should resign. I will tell you how I came to this conclusion. But first let me give you some context from my recent tropical experience.

Let me inform you about what I did during my ‘holidays’ in Guatemala. I was there for three reasons. The first one: to vote for my party, which to everyone's surprise, made it to the second round, and won! This is the biggest burst of democracy since the US-backed coup d’etat from 1954 which ended our ten years of democracy. I must admit that experiencing this period of happiness and overall hope, was amazing, specially in a country where a few decades ago, you would get killed for much less than writing these words. For details on the election look here.

During 2021-2022 I lead the party’s energy-environment commission for the political plan. I introduced the concepts of ‘planetary boundaries’ (Steffen et al., 2015), adapted to the Guatemalan context, as well as a physics-based critic to the myth of infinite economic growth on a finite-resource system, and an alternative based on the work of Kate Rareworth, Manfre Max-Neef, Antonio Elizalde, Julio Quan, and classic economists.

The second reason was to supervise a controlled study conducted by a colleague of mine, where twenty families were using the efficient stove developed as part of my MSc thesis. The study gave us statistical confidence to guarantee that families will save 50 percent of the biomass they used to consume, protecting the forests and cooking with cleaner air. Now the start-up is ready for scaling up. Lets not forget that roughly one in three people in the world need access to clean cooking.

The third reason was to participate in the inauguration of the ‘Cultural and learning center’ for 800 people created by a large cooperative (170,000 members), which I have been advising scientifically and technically in terms of environment.

As my holidays are ending and my 30th birthday is approaching (it's today), I prepare to go back to the Netherlands, where I will have three months to complete a massive numerical hydrogen combustion study on the largest supercomputer in Europe (Lumi, in collaboration with the TU/e HPC-lab), as well as to write two papers before going to Princeton University as a guest researcher in January, as part of my PhD in the Argon-Power-Cycle.

So while I’m using my holidays to do these things because I’m fully aware of the imminent existential threat that climate change poses for human civilization, and a tiny third world country as Guatemala is putting science as a guide for their polity, I read the interview of our President Robert-Jan Smits in the national newspaper De Telegraaf, and watched the opening of the academic year at TU/e: ‘The future earning power?’.  I mean… are we back in 1940’s? Every guest on the panel was clear, we must act now to accelerate the energy transition on a global scale, except Robert-Jan. How can the head of a world-class scientific institution as TU/e go against the very conclusion that science is showing?

I would like to answer Robert-Jan’s question: No, “you’re not Africa”, as a matter of fact, you’re not even Central America, because in a tiny, poor, underdeveloped country like Guatemala, we are using science to guide our political decisions, because we are fully aware of the imminent existential threat that climate change poses to human civilization and other life forms.

We. Must. Change. Now. Science must be our guide in this massive challenge, not belief, nor ideology. And TU/e must be at the vanguard of this challenge. It is utterly irresponsible that someone who wants to “slow down the transition”, with neo-colonial views of the world, and who can not get passed the myth of infinite economic growth paradigm in a finite resource system to lead our university. Thus I think Robert-Jan Smits should resign.

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