Widgets Magazine


Why Stanford should divest from fossil fuels

When the email first showed up in my inbox, I curiously clicked the link, hastily entered my information in the unassuming white boxes, and then paused, musing over the cover image of the ring of students, hands locked in protest.

Am I really going to do this? What does this even entail? Could I get in trouble for this?

A thousand thoughts flashed through my mind, clashed with each other, crunched in like aluminum soda cans. I thought of the urgency in Al Gore’s tone as he spoke passionately of the inconvenient truth he warned of in his famous documentary. I remembered my seventh-grade self, watching said documentary and feeling sick to my stomach. I reflected on the times when I’d written speeches, put up flyers for an environmental club and told the boy sitting next to me in class to throw the paper in the goddamn recycling bin. I contemplated heroes and hypocrites.

Then I clicked “sign,” sending my name, two email addresses and cell phone number to the database of students who promised to “participate in nonviolent direct action to protest my University financially supporting, and therefore condoning, a business model that endangers public health, exacerbates climatic and political instability and disproportionately harms people of color and low-income communities around the world” unless Stanford divests from the fossil fuel industry.

As the weeks bore on, the messages accumulated. Some solicited sign-ups, others informed me of mandatory meetings and the latest one instructed me to pick a time slot to get legal training so that I may be ready to become one with the civilly disobedient. Yet as each one arrived, I kept putting off action. The pledge sat in the back of my mind, flaring up and dying off again like an incessant ocean swell. Would divestment even have any impact on the climate change conundrum?

The real problem with divestment is that it doesn’t result in any net loss of profit for the fossil fuel companies, since, in order to divest from the market, the shares have to be sold to some other buyer. Critics of divestment have even posed the argument that it is better to keep our shares, since then Stanford will have some significant voice in the direction of these companies. And even if we’re solely talking morals, then where is the line drawn? Should we also divest from companies that rely on fossil fuels, like car companies or manufacturing companies? What about the little things, the cars we drive and the products we consume? Although there are numerous laudable efforts to promote and use renewables on campus, our university runs primarily on fossil fuels. How can we even justify moral divestment if we literally burn the fuel we want to divest from ourselves?

This is the lifeblood of the climate change debate. We’ve become so reliant on fossil fuels as a species that we can’t possibly change every aspect of our lifestyles that depend on them, both because this would require such widespread, sweeping change and because there is not yet an alternative energy source efficient and cheap enough to accommodate this. And this doesn’t even take into account how fossil fuel companies have permeated our political atmosphere courtesy of political action committees, lobbying and millions of dollars pumped into candidates’ campaigns.

The other issue is that, even though we may romanticize the place, Stanford is, at the core, a business, which seeks to offer classes to students, employ professors and in turn produce intellectual property. Stanford’s investments help keep this business running, and the endowment needs to make money in order for this to occur. However, this fund is currently hovering around the $22.2 billion mark. While the details of particular investments are kept under wraps, it is safe to say that these funds do not depend entirely on the success of the fossil fuel industry in order to keep afloat. Certainly the university could reallocate its investments toward companies that don’t conflict with the moral compasses of a portion of its populace.

When Stanford divested from coal in 2014, we made waves and headlines and prompted other universities, like Georgetown, to follow in our footsteps. If anything, it was a symbolic move, showing that Stanford has enough confidence in alternative energy that it can place its stakes in more environmentally-friendly energy sources. If nothing else, this symbolic gesture can only promote the clean energy industry, which we so desperately need if we are going to have any shot at tackling climate change.

At some point, we as a species have got to wake up and face the cold, stinging truth of the matter. At some point, something is going to have to change, because we are slowly and surely suffocating ourselves, killing our planet day by day. We cannot have simply our own interests in mind here, because we’ve brought ourselves in so deep with regards to fossil fuels and environmental destruction that, at some point, we will drown. We’ve gotten so used to our collective tragedy of the commons that we are numb, deciding that life is easier if we just ignore the issue.

In this case, what it really boils down to is time. The upcoming U.N. climate conference in Paris provides an opportunity for the world to unite on the issue of climate change, and it is particularly critical due to the failure of previous worldwide efforts such as the Kyoto Protocol. Stanford’s divestment would provide support toward this collective effort, as well as help halt the moral conflict that arises with our continued investment in the fossil fuel industry. We as a species have brought this burden upon ourselves, and it is time we shoulder it with some responsibility.


Contact Amara McCune at amccune2 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

  • Grant Giske

    Amara, Your article makes more sense and reflects more
    careful thought than what I have read elsewhere. However, the basic
    premise – that fossil fuels are destroying the climate – is a fraud.
    Don’t let that comment cause you to quit reading.

    I am sorry that as a child you suffered through Al Gore’s
    movie, complete with deliberate lies, Styrofoam being used to simulate
    snow. His comment that Global Warming is “Settled Science” proves what
    little he knows about science. Science is never settled. Every
    scientific conclusion is subject to challenge which is the very system by which
    we increase our scientific knowledge. There are indeed tens of thousands
    of real scientists, ones who have studied these issues carefully, who agree
    with me that the entire IPCC crowd is a fraud with very sinister
    intentions. In addition to the following, I suggest you read some of the
    postings by Professor Emeritus of the University of Virginia. Since he
    does not receive government funding promoting “climate change” “global warming”
    or whatever, he is free to pursue real science. His most recent article
    about the IPCC can be found at: http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2015/10/paris_climate_conference_is_likely_to_fail.html

    As I took the time to read your article, please take the
    time to read comments I have posted at the Stanford Review article on Facebook


    Interesting. Yes, particulate matter released with the burning of fossil fuels is bad stuff
    and needs to be curtailed. However, here are some thoughts for you and the
    demonstrating students to consider.

    1. Are you absolutely sure real science is on your side about climate change –
    formerly global warming? You are buried in an environment where the gospel is
    yes. Stanford students are supposed to challenge what they are told. It is far
    from settled science that the computer models from the 1980s and 1990s are
    correct in calling for significant warming, rising oceans and other disasters.
    In fact each and every one of them has been proven false in the 15 to 25 years
    since they were created. I for one, tend to agree with thousands of scientists
    and other knowledgeable people that it is the sun that determines global
    warming and cooling (as it has done for billions of years) and man is pretty
    much along for the ride. Three solar cycles have been identified. One every 11
    to 15 years, one every 200 or so years and an third of several thousand years.
    Over time, the various ice ages and warm periods reflect these cycles. The
    previous short cycle was anemic at best and was followed by an extended very
    low period before the current cycle began. It never reached normal heights and
    is currently fading away. No one, I repeat No one, I repeat one more time No
    one, can predict what the sun will do next. If the next cycle is also anemic,
    then we are on our way to a cold period such as around the American Revolution
    or earlier when the Norwegians were frozen out of Newfound Land and Greenland.
    If it is robust, then the current period of no change which has existed for 17
    years or so (yes even the IPCC or whatever it is calls it a “pause”
    in global warming) will be followed by some warming. Since global warming or
    cooling when it happens takes a substantial number of years to cause really
    significant change, I believe it is a mistake to spend billions (actually
    trillions of money transfers from developed countries to lesser developed
    countries) until we know in five years or so whether we are on the warming or
    cooling side of the curve. When I was at Stanford (graduated in 1963) and for a
    decade or so later, educators studying this issue got their funding by studying
    Global Cooling. Then any grant request for studying Global Warming never made
    it out of the mail room just as now any request for studying Global cooling
    goes directly to the spam folder.

    2. You conclude that Stanford is your university. Except for any of you who pay
    the full cost of your studies at Stanford, I suggest that you share in the
    ownership of Stanford with alumni, donors, faculty, staff, your parents, the
    local community, and yes Stanford investments which you say include fossil fuel
    companies the revenue from these investments contributing to paying your
    tuition and other costs.

    3. You offer no alternative to fossil fuels, unless you want to go back to
    un-air conditioned classes and dorms, no electricity at night, and other
    conveniences that the first Stanford students did not have. I clearly remember
    taking a six (yes six) hour math final in a 100 degree plus room on the Quad.
    There is only one viable alternative as a source of electrical power to the
    level our society demands at this time. That is Nuclear power. Even though when
    you study the actual data, Nuclear is safer and cleaner for the environment
    than any other source, I am confident only a very few of you have overcome the
    anti nuclear forces. There is no money in studying Nuclear. Solar and Wind and
    other so called renewable sources simply cannot meet the demand for at least
    the next 20 years.

    4. My recommendations to you. Read up on what the scientists who believe from
    their studies that global warming is a hoax and try to prove them wrong. That
    is what true science is all about. Only when you truly believe you are
    knowledgeable on both sides of the issue are you qualified to demonstrate one
    way or the other. Study the true data about nuclear, and if you conclude that
    it is indeed safer and cleaner than any other source, (should be cheaper except
    for our legal system), surprise the rest of the American university world and
    demonstrate for Nuclear.

    Grant Giske
    BSME 1963


    is what many millions of people outside the closed confines of University
    Campuses think about Climate Change http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2015/11/the_end_of_the_world_all_over_again.html

    Sadly, the author is right, if the thieves in Paris are successful, the citizens of
    the world will have billions of their money ripped off, a significant decline
    in their standard of living, graduating students will not find jobs, and
    millions of poor people will suffer that much more. Students wake up, get
    educated )that is what you are there for) before you side with the thieves out
    of stupidity.