Fossil Free freshmen respond to criticism of civil disobedience

Oct. 27, 2015, 11:59 p.m.

Last Monday, a fellow freshman posted a piece criticizing Fossil Free Stanford’s pressure on the University to divest from fossil fuels. He expressed his fear with regard to our recent pledge for civil disobedience, in which 114 students have committed to civil disobedience if the University doesn’t divest before the COP21 negotiations at the end of November, because he didn’t want to be “signing a pledge before [he] even [knew] what [he’d be] doing.” As new members of Fossil Free Stanford, we want to recognize his concern as reasonable, and do our best to replace it with knowledge and understanding of what we are trying to do.

On the logistical side, we want to clarify that while the specific logistics of the planned civil disobedience are not public, they will be shared with individuals who sign the pledge to join us. Signing the pledge does not, of course, commit them in any way to participating if these details make them uncomfortable. Additionally, we fully acknowledge that there are risks inherent in nonviolent civil disobedience. We have lawyers directly involved in the planning of our action, and will host mandatory trainings on legal risks and expected behavior in the run-up. Please see our website for more questions:

In response to questions of rashness, it’s important to note that long before we arrived and joined the team, FFS had been working intensively with Stanford’s Administration (for three years).

In the seven days before launching our pledge for civil disobedience, for example, members of our team met with the Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing, with whom they’ve met regularly, and the Office of the President, and had a letter read aloud to the Special Committee on Investment Responsibility (SCIR) of the Board of Trustees. In that same time period, a firm but civil letter was delivered to the every member of the Board of Trustees by our ASSU President and Vice President, John-Lancaster Finley and Brandon Hill, in coordination with FFS. Additionally, both the ASSU Senate and the Graduate Student Council have passed resolutions calling for full fossil fuel divestment.

And we in FFS are committed to continuing to build our relationships with the administration moving forward. As our campaign has grown in numbers and determination, we have seen administrators become increasingly interested in talking about solutions. But there’s really only time for a couple more weeks of talk, not a couple more years. After three years of work, our Board of Trustees continues to maintain a vested interest in the success of fossil fuel companies, companies which have understood the consequences of their product for 40 years and have buried the truth beneath irresponsible lies.

Therefore in protest we’ve turned to civil disobedience — because time is running out.

Three years is a long time for an administration to discuss something this urgent without coming to a decision. The COP 21 United Nations Climate Change Conference starts on Noc. 29, and the U.N. has declared it the “last chance to adopt a global agreement that makes it possible to secure a safe climate.” We cannot allow Stanford’s Board of Trustees to deliberate any longer. It is imperative now, more than it ever has been, to definitively announce that U.S. civil society does not see a future for fossil fuels. The strongest statement that Stanford can make is to pull financial support for this destructive, distortionary industry.

The fossil fuel industry has controlled the political space around climate discussions for decades, while the impacts of fossil fuel combustion have approached dangerous levels. The harm caused will and already does affect communities disproportionately. These effects are today being felt much more immediately and severely by communities of color and low-income communities already facing other injustices like systemic racism and profiling. By divesting from companies that contribute to climate change, Stanford can refuse to support further oppression of these communities and encourage the U.S. negotiators heading to Paris to do the same by supporting a robust international climate agreement.


Authors Beck Goodloe, Sadie Cwikiel, Sarah Ribeiro-Broomhead, Luke Miller, Sarah Vernallis, Hallie Dunham, Aitan Grossman, Emily Lemmerman, and Natalie Baker are all freshmen (Class of 2019) members of Fossil Free Stanford.

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