Protesters halt opening of Stanford School of Sustainability

Protesters interrupted the opening ceremony of the Doerr School of Sustainability on Thursday by arguing against fossil fuel funding for the new school. The event to celebrate the school’s recent opening on the first of this month drew big names including Tom Steyer, a billionaire who has centered climate change in his 2020 presidential campaign.

The protest, organized by the Stanford Coalition for a True School of Sustainability and made up of students and faculty, marks the latest in a series of community advocacy events following news that the development school sustainability will continue to receive research funding from oil and gas companies. The coalition called on Stanford to withhold future funding from these companies and create public sustainability standards that funders should meet.

“We can’t wholeheartedly celebrate the launch of this school while these funding ties to the fossil fuel industry exist,” said June Choi, a second-year earth system science doctoral student. student, said in an interview.

The protesters organized at the Braun Geology Corner and moved to the Mitchell Earth Sciences building where the opening ceremony took place. Protesters held up signs reading “Free Fossil Fuels” and “Close the Doerr on Fossil Fuels.” They chanted “Hey hey, ho ho, fossil funding has to go!” and “Big oil no more, fossil fuels out” at the base of the building.

(Photo: ULA LUCAS/The Stanford Daily)

Comparative literature professor David Palumbo-Liu spoke at the protest, saying Stanford has a responsibility to deny funding to companies that continue to extract, process and sell fossil fuels.

“By accepting dirty money, Stanford is abdicating its responsibility as a research institution,” Palumbo-Liu told the crowd.

Criticism of the new school began in early May, when its first dean Arun Majumdar told the New York Times that the school would accept funding from fossil fuel companies under his leadership.

Majumdar has since clarified its position on fossil fuel financing. While the school will accept funding for industry-affiliated programs such as the Bitts & Watts initiative or StorageX, he wrote in a May public letter, “the school does not have the intention to seek financing from oil and gas companies for its general operations”.

The coalition posted a breakdown of fossil fuel funding in the School of Sustainability on its website, posted letters to the community making its case, and held events like Thursday’s protest to raise awareness.

Once the opening ceremony began, protesters returned to Geology Corner and gave way to event speakers. Dean of the School of Sustainability Arun Majumdar, University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Knight-Hennessy Scholar Anela Arithi and John Doerr spoke at the ceremony. Investor and venture capitalist Doerr, after whom the school is named, donated $1.1 billion to support its establishment.

From left to right: Iman Deriche, Sara Abdelhamid, Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Chris Rilling.
From left to right: Iman Deriche, Sara Abdelhamid, Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Chris Rilling. (Photo courtesy of Chris Rilling)

Majumdar, the first to speak, acknowledged the protest before his speech: “To the students over there, we hear you, we hear you loud and clear.”

Majumdar told The Daily after the event that he started a listening tour to meet with students and faculty regarding the school of sustainability. “Hopefully it will be done by the end of this quarter,” Majumdar added. Thereafter, he said, he plans to release a transparent report and address contentious issues in the future.

In her remarks, Arithi, a passionate advocate for global environmental justice who grew up witnessing energy poverty in Bosnia, praised Stanford’s interdisciplinary focus for how it enabled her doctorate. aviation biofuel research and policy.

Arithi’s speech was partly interrupted by protesters, who resumed their chants prematurely. After the hiatus, she said that for the school of sustainability to deliver on its promise, it must partner “with entities that are fully aligned with Stanford’s vision for reducing emissions and withhold funding from all these entities that undermine this great question”.

Doerr, who gave the final speech, concluded the opening ceremony with optimism.

“Climate change is one of the greatest opportunities ever presented to humanity,” he said. “Climate science could become the new computer science.”

Speakers celebrated the cutting of the vine at the commencement ceremony of the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability.
Speakers celebrated the cutting of the vine at the commencement ceremony of the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability. (Courtesy of Paul Sakuma, Photography)

Some attendees at the opening ceremony said they saw benefits in the school accepting fossil fuel money.

“If anyone wants to make the change fast enough, it will be with the help of these companies,” said Omar Rosales-Cortez, a second-year Ph.D. in geological sciences. student, who added that he recognized the industry’s historic contribution to climate change.

Earth systems professor Noah Diffenbaugh, who has said he does not receive funding from fossil fuel companies, told the Daily he believes in Stanford’s commitment to its open research policy, which promotes freedom academic and transparency in research.

“Stanford has been very supportive of me as a [principal investigator] by declaring sources of funding,” Diffenbaugh said, adding that he was able to disclose funding even when the federal funding agency did not want that information made public.

A protester holds a sign saying
(Photo: ULA LUCAS/The Stanford Daily)

Among those present at the high profile event was Tom Steyer. Steyer has led philanthropic efforts in sustainability, founded Stanford’s TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy and the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance, and ran for president in 2020. He has also served on the university board of trustees from 2007 to 2017.

“The more conversations there are and the more interaction there is between members of the Stanford community to structure this school in a way that best suits Stanford, I am fully supportive. They are very idealistic people who try to do the right thing and care a lot,” he told the Daily. “Who doesn’t respect that?

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