Climate change: a test of conviction

Oct. 23, 2014, 12:47 a.m.

Throughout the world, temperatures are reaching record highs and greenhouse gas emissions are increasing. Extreme weather events, warmer oceans, ocean acidification, flooding, wildfires and droughts have become the new normal. Hotter temperatures are triggering dynamic, unstoppable changes that threaten Earth’s life-support systems. The combustion of fossil fuels, such as oil, coal or natural gas, is the main driver of climate change. Scientists have shown that climate change is already harming society, in areas such as agriculture and public health. To avoid further damage, we need to act to cut emissions drastically.

Last month, more than 400,000 people marched in New York City. Against the backdrop of this ever-growing threat to the environment, people united to demand that leaders act more aggressively and initiate ecologically responsible practices.

In April 2013, in my role as a San Francisco Supervisor, when an initiative came before the Board of Supervisors urging our retirement board to fully divest of fossil fuel holdings within five years, I noted that it would be ironic to have San Francisco’s employees’ retirement money in pension funds supporting fossil fuels. Individuals look to their retirement funds for a comfortable future – not one compromised by climate change. The people of San Francisco demanded that their leaders make forward-thinking, environmentally responsible decisions to safeguard the city’s future – and I was proud to join in supporting divestiture.

Divestiture stands as a powerful tool to force the reassignment of assets toward the development of a clean-technology paradigm. Divestment is about using the power of investment dollars to change corporate behavior and has emerged as an effective tool to articulate shared values and priorities. Divestment of public and private funds from fossil fuel holdings also advances a narrative promoting conscious, sustainable lifestyles. Moving away from fossil fuel investments is a small, but powerful, step on the path to mitigating climate change. Throughout the world, climate change and human rights activists, such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have framed divestment from fossil fuels as a moral imperative – like the anti-apartheid movement framed divestment from South African companies a generation ago.

Like political leaders, university trustees have significant powers of authority at their disposal. Policy decisions are statements of values. These decisions can impact lives for generations. When policy decisions are monetized the impacts become clear – and nowhere is this more evident than in the practice of asset investment. On May 6, 2014, the Stanford Board of Trustees decided to divest its endowment assets from coal. That action ensures Stanford’s endowment investment strategy is consistent with the university mission, reinforcing its scholarship and campus operations that address environmental sustainability. Reflecting on the Board’s determination recently in the alumni Stanford Magazine, President Hennessy asserted, “Reliance on fossil fuels harms human health and the climate, and our researchers are pioneering advances in renewable energy.”

Climate change presents a critical and immediate test of our values, vision and leadership. Divestiture is a bold response to that test, and I applaud Stanford’s willingness to join the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and many other institutions in this response.   I admire Stanford’s openness to explore new frontiers in the universe of strategies to combat climate change, including asset management. We all must continue to engage with the issues supporting sustainable energy solutions for the future, and I look forward to continuing to stand behind Stanford’s efforts to lead the way.

David Campos ’93

David Campos B.A.’93 is a San Francisco Supervisor and can be reached at [email protected]

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