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Op-Ed: Why Stanford must divest from fossil fuels


There will be more commotion than usual today in White Plaza. A student movement is rallying to President Hennessy’s office to promote the transparent phase-out of all fossil fuel investments in Stanford’s endowment. As a trailblazing innovator in technology and research, and as an educator of the world’s next generation of leaders, it is critical that Stanford set an example by withdrawing its support for an industry that is crippling our planet.

Climate change is accelerating at an alarming rate, and the longer we delay aggressive emissions reductions, the more catastrophic its impacts will become. Climate change has rapidly become one of the foremost environmental and social justice issues of our time, and it is imperative, for our sake and for the sake of future generations around the world, that we take immediate action to address this crisis.

But Stanford already has an impressive set of “green” initiatives, right? True. The evidence is all around us, from the composting programs in dining halls to the LEED Platinum buildings at the new Graduate School of Business. Stanford University has traditionally performed well on college “sustainability report cards” from various organizations.

Yet Stanford always underperforms in the endowment transparency category. While it may be understandable for our fund managers not to reveal their entire investment strategy, Stanford also has an obligation not to undermine the futures of its own students and graduates. In light of the catastrophic economic and human damage caused by recent extreme climate events, it is time for some transparency and responsibility.

Announcing a withdrawal from fossil fuel investments would not jeopardize the long-term success of any well-built portfolio. It would affirm that we practice what we preach, and that our educations will not come at the expense of the world in which we plan to use them.

We therefore call on Stanford to immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies, and to divest within five years from direct ownership of fossil fuel companies and from any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds.

We are not alone in our vision. At more than a hundred schools across the country, students with similar rallying cries are insisting that universities, as bastions of intellectual discourse and breeding grounds for new ideas, jump on board and say enough is enough. Fossil fuel companies have a stranglehold on the American and global economic systems; armed with billions of dollars and hordes of lobbyists, they can easily brush off political opposition. But if there’s any place where something can start small and transform our lives, it’s at Stanford (see Google and Hewlett-Packard, among many others).

Over the next three years, Stanford will spend $440 million to implement the Stanford Energy System Innovation’s new heat recovery system, which is projected to cut campus greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent. That is a significant investment (with a positive payback), intended primarily to cut emissions.

Stanford and the Board of Trustees get it. They want to do the right thing. We’re optimistic that the Board will continue to lead Stanford into the future as a role model in sustainable investment, and we invite you to join the movement to call on the school we love to divest from fossil fuels.

Adam Pearson ‘12 M.S. ‘13
Sophie Harrison ‘16
Graham Provost ‘13

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