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Fossil Free Stanford: Open letter to the Stanford University Board of Trustees

To the Stanford University Board of Trustees:

When you directed Stanford to divest its endowment from coal companies on May 6, 2014, it was only the 12th university endowment to divest from any fossil fuels since the Fossil Free movement began in 2012, and the largest endowment to do so by an order of magnitude. In the year since, the fossil fuel divestment movement has exploded into an international force. Dozens more universities, pension funds, religious institutions, and foundations have divested billions of dollars in assets, including the Rockefeller Foundation (worth $860 million), the Guardian Media Group (£800 million, or $1.1 billion), and Syracuse University ($1.18 billion).

At the time, Stanford’s decision to divest from coal was a courageous decision “consistent with our institutional values,” as trustee Deborah DeCotis wrote. To the Stanford community, the decision reaffirmed the university’s commitment to our future. To the world, it proved that major institutions not only should, but actually could divest from fossil fuels. When Stanford divested from coal, it helped kickstart a wave of action. As Fossil Free Stanford has always argued, the decision to divest is not focused on direct economic impact, but rather on encouraging others to take social and political action. The rapid expansion of the movement in the past year has definitively confirmed the power of divestment to do this.

Today, this movement is far from over. The scale and severity of the climate crisis demands that production of all fossil fuels be curtailed. Therefore, Fossil Free Stanford has called for full divestment from oil and gas companies as well. Last autumn we submitted a new request for review to the APIR-L. They have heard us, understand the facts, and are working towards a recommendation. We are tremendously grateful for their hard work and open communication.

Meanwhile, the fossil fuel divestment movement is continuing to expand dramatically. This spring, we have been inspired to see that campaigns across the country are escalating, in many cases to civil disobedience. As we write, fellow students at Harvard, Swarthmore, Bowdoin, and elsewhere are engaging in protests, sit-ins, and blockades against administrations that dismiss and silence their voices, while continuing to invest in climate destruction. These administrations have tried to placate their students and faculty members with expedient sustainability efforts, or used outdated economic arguments to justify ignoring them. As our fellow campaigners are already showing, these efforts are fruitless and regressive. The message of this spring is that we cannot be satisfied by partial measures and half-hearted commitment to the fate of our planet and our generation.

Inspired by the increasing tempo of direct action across the world, and the tremendous urgency of combating climate change, Fossil Free Stanford is also building momentum towards full divestment. Campus support for fossil fuel divestment has exploded since Stanford divested from coal. The number of signatures on our petition supporting divestment has increased in the past year to more than 3,300. Our core team of organizers has tripled in that time. More and more students from across majors and communities have turned out for our rallies and have advocated for divestment across campus. More than 310 tenured Stanford faculty have co-signed a letter, published in January, calling for Stanford to divest from the rest of the fossil fuel industry.

However, we have decided not to engage in civil disobedience, and we have made this decision because of you. Stanford’s administration, President Hennessy, and the Board of Trustees have wholeheartedly acknowledged the severity of the threat that climate change poses to our environment, economy, and society, and you have committed yourselves to action. Last year, in an op-ed co-written by President Faust of Harvard, President Hennessy declared that universities must be “dedicat[ed] to pursuing powerful long-term solutions without becoming subservient to near-term economic interests or partisan political concerns. … Universities must use these inherent strengths to make the most potent possible contribution on climate change.” President Hennessy is right — Stanford has a mandate to use its power and position responsibly, before more human lives, more time, more species, and more hope are lost. We are not escalating to civil disobedience because we are confident that you, Stanford University’s Trustees, will commit to fossil fuel divestment by the end of the year.

Our work with you and with the administration has thus far been productive, but we are rapidly running out of time in the inexorable march towards irreversible climate change and falling behind in the courageous opposition movement which Stanford helped to catalyze. In their letter to you, 372 faculty members declared their concern that, by going no further than coal divestment, Stanford is “making only a partial confrontation with th[e] danger” of climate change. They conclude, and we insist, that “there is a scientifically documented, morally clear, technologically innovative right thing to do: divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in a sustainable future.”

With hope for a better future,

The Students of Fossil Free Stanford

Contact Fossil Free Stanford at fossilfreestanford ‘at’ gmail.com. 

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