Fossil Free Stanford campaigns for divestment

May 19, 2013, 10:46 p.m.

Fossil Free Stanford, the Stanford chapter of a national Fossil Free movement, has launched a campus-wide initiative to urge the University to divest from fossil fuels.

The group aims to convince University officials to freeze all new fossil fuel investments and to fully divest from the 200 largest publicly traded fossil fuel companies within the next five years.

Fossil Free Stanford was formed at the end of fall quarter after Bill McKibben, a co-founder of the international climate campaign, visited Palo Alto on his “Do the Math” tour. According to Michael Penuelas ’15, a member of Fossil Free Stanford, the event inspired students to found their own divestment campaign.

“This is our tuition money and our professors’ pension money…and our school’s endowment is going to support industries that are polluting our future,” said Fossil Free Stanford member Yari Greaney  ’15. “Divesting is something we can do as an institution and really make a statement.”

Communications with the APIRL

Greaney and other members of the group have been communicating since February with Stanford’s Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing (APIRL), the body that advises President John Hennessy and the Board of Trustees on ethnical issues surrounding University endowment investments.

According to APIRL Staff Liaison Kathleen Greenan, the purpose of the APIRL is to provide “a forum for the Stanford community to voice its concerns about the social and environmental impacts of Stanford’s investment and trademark licensing activities.”

While a variety of divestment campaigns have been presented to the APIRL, only three have been successful. Stanford divested from several companies with operations in apartheid South Africa in 1977 and divested from major tobacco companies in 1998. In 2005, Stanford divested from four companies that supported the Sudanese government.

“In each case, the action was based on fiduciary obligations and clear ethical principles which were widely held across the entire Stanford community,” Greenan wrote in a statement to The Daily.

Fossil Free Stanford members made a presentation to the APIRL’s Environmental Sustainability Subcommittee in March, and they submitted an official request for the review of investments on May 8.

Sophie Harrison ’16, a member of Fossil Free Stanford, said that there was “a lot of respect” in the APIRL’s response to the group’s presentation. Harrison noted that group members are now focused on “making sure [the APIRL] can fully understand the urgency of the situation” and recognize the group’s broad support base.

Though Greenan said that APIRL’s 2012-2013 session has ended, she expects further communication with Fossil Free Stanford next year.

“We look forward to working with the group into the fall as they prepare for a presentation to the full panel,” Greenan said in a statement.

Campus-wide efforts

In addition to submitting its official proposal for divestment, Fossil Free Stanford has held several events and started an online petition to rally support from the Stanford community and make students more aware of the divestment movement.

The petition recently reached 1,045 signatures, and group members held a 1,000 signature celebration in front of President Hennessy’s office on May 17.

Fossil Free Stanford has also been in contact with similar groups at a number of schools across the country and in the Bay Area such as UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco and San Francisco State University.

According to Harrison, 300 schools across the country have active fossil fuel divestment campaigns and 11 cities have committed to divestment.

“It’s a national movement…part of what makes this so powerful is that there are students across the country working on this,” Harrison said. “It comes down to the fact that by continuing to live our lifestyles with a dependence on fossil fuels, we are condemning future generations to a world that is not as good as the one we have right now.”

The group is working to gain more signatures on the petition, conduct a year-end review and strengthen the argument presented to the APIRL by compiling research on the necessity of divestment.

Group members also hope to foster more faculty and alumni support and involvement, and they may create a video featuring professors speaking about the importance of divestment from fossil fuels.

“We’re all very passionate about this, and we’re not going away,” Penuelas said.

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