Crossing the Line: A Scientist’s Road From Neutrality to Activism

BOSTON—A broken solar panel that once hung in the window of Nathan Phillips' Boston University office now serves as a message board, propped against the wall next to the professor's desk. Taped to the panel are faded yellow pages from The Daily Free Press, the university's student newspaper—articles from the spring of 1986, when BU student Yosef Abramowitz staged a 14-day hunger strike demanding that the university divest from companies operating under South African apartheid. 

Phillips, an environmental scientist, thinks about Abramowitz a lot these days, ever since he began his own hunger strike two weeks ago, to protest what he says are public health and safety violations related to the construction of a large natural gas compressor station on top of a toxic landfill in Weymouth, outside Boston. 

"He showed me that you can force issues into the spotlight, that hunger strikes can do that," Phillips said of Abramowitz. "He lost the battle, but they won the war."

The hunger strike—which he ended at about 3 p.m. Wednesday afternoon—carried physical risks. Lanky to begin with, the 53-year-old Korean American professor has lost 22 pounds since he stopped eating on Jan. 29, and has been subsisting on unsweetened tea, sea salt and vitamin supplements. 

The protest also carried professional risks. He has been challenged by colleagues and his increasing activism—Phillips has been arrested for non-violent protests against fossil fuel projects three times since October—may lead other scientists, including some potential research collaborators, to question his methods and objectivity.  

Read More At Inside Climate News

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