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As peer institutions divest from fossil fuels, Stanford still wavers

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Pressure is ramping up on Stanford to divest from fossil fuels after Harvard and Dartmouth recently announced their decisions to divest. Despite the University’s creation of a new climate and sustainability school last year and continued activism from Fossil Free Stanford (FFS), the University has yet to divest its endowment from fossil fuels. 

On Oct. 8, Dartmouth announced that it will divest its endowment from any companies involved in the production or exploration of fossil fuels. Dartmouth is not the only peer institution to make this decision: in early September, Harvard President Lawrence Bacow announced that the University would divest its $41.9 billion endowment from any companies that “explore for or develop further reserves of fossil fuels.” 

Jade Wood, a senior at Harvard and a member of the Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard Campaign, said that “the importance of divestment isn’t to deliver an economic sting. It is important to involve the moral repudiation of industry that caused so much damage and destruction all over the world.” She added that Institutions like Harvard “have a responsibility to advocate for the common good of society.” 

Despite continuous organization from groups such as FFS, as well as from alumni, students, and professors, Stanford’s Board of Trustees still voted to continue its investments in fossil fuels in 2021. In 2015, FFS organized a campaign to withhold donor donations to Stanford, including the Senior Gift, which is given by the senior class as a token of their appreciation, until Stanford agrees to divest from fossil fuels.

Though Stanford remains invested in fossil fuels, the University’s investment in fossil fuel companies has significantly decreased over the past couple of years. According to the Stanford Management Company (SMC), less than 1.5% of Stanford’s portfolio is invested in fossil fuel companies and Stanford has no direct holdings in the top 100 oil and gas companies. 

University spokesperson E.J. Miranda referred The Daily to the Board’s June 2020 statement on divestment, in which the Board wrote that “participation in today’s energy systems — either as suppliers or consumers — does not in and of itself currently meet the standard required for blanket divestment under Stanford’s Statement on Investment Responsibility.”

The Board added that they are committed “to accelerating the university’s transition, including its operations and endowment, to at least net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.”

Evan Baldonado ‘23, co-director of Students for a Sustainable Stanford (SSS), said that he supports Harvard’s new policy and hopes that Stanford will follow suit. “I hope that universities that divest from fossil fuels reinvest that money in supporting people who have been disproportionately harmed by the fossil fuel industry and in supporting alternatives to fossil fuels,” he said.

Advocates for divestment agreed, however, that universities have a much bigger part to play in combating climate change beyond divesting.

“Universities like Harvard must commit to using their billion dollar endowments for social good in a way that repairs the harm that they were founded on and continue to perpetuate,” Wood said.

SSS Internal Community Co-Lead Sydney Schmitter ’23 added that Stanford needs to recognize climate solutions, including technology and science, and focus on advancing interdisciplinary cooperation.

“Actively supporting interdisciplinary collaboration and science in Stanford’s School of Earth and New School of Sustainability is an important step to more holistically address the climate crisis,” she said.

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Sathvik Nori is a freshman in the class of 2025 and on the University desk. He is especially interested in education policy at both the high school and university level. In his free time he enjoys reading and spending time with friends.