Fossil Free rally calls for divestment, highlights connectedness of pushes for climate justice

Feb. 13, 2020, 11:48 p.m.

In a call for Stanford to divest oil and natural gas, Fossil Free Stanford highlighted how some people around the world are already facing the impacts of climate change. After starting in White Plaza, the Thursday rally ended in Main Quad with a moment of silence in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en of British Columbia, an indigenous group fighting against the construction of a pipeline on its traditional territory. 

Speakers from Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the Pilipinx-American Student Union (PASU) and the Pacific Islander club Hui o Nā Moku spoke about how continued investment in fossil fuels impacts their frontline communities.

Vanessa Farley ’22, an organizer for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, described how the fossil fuel industry contributes to violence against indigenous women through the practice of “man camps,” temporary housing for industrial workers.

Farley cited a report published last year by the Canadian government, which found that violence against indigenous women in the country amounts to genocide. In citing research from a proposed natural gas pipeline, the report also states that “currently Indigenous communities, particularly women and children, are the most vulnerable and at risk of experiencing the negative effects of industrial camps, such as sexual assault.”

The Canadian government’s report states that “this genocide has been empowered by colonial structures evidenced notably by the Indian Act, the Sixties Scoop, residential schools and breaches of human and Indigenous rights, leading directly to the current increased rates of violence, death, and suicide in Indigenous populations.”

Farely asked those in the audience on Thursday to “think about how, in relation to that, Stanford is investing so much money into this state-led genocide. How is that acceptable?”

Brad Hayward ’92, associate vice president of University communications, did not specifically respond to claims that Stanford was investing in state-led genocide, but said that the University’s Board of Trustees is reviewing a proposal from Fossil Free Stanford.

“The Board’s investment responsibility committee created a task force that has been working to gain perspectives on the issues from the proponents and from others in the campus community,” he added. “That process of obtaining input is continuing.”

Romeo Umana ’19, a speaker at the event, cited investment screens — the process of filtering out selected companies from investments — as a way to easily divest from not just fossil fuels but other industries such as tobacco, Department of Defense contractors and for-profit prisons.

“Oftentimes we can talk about international solidarity, or intersectionality or how our struggles are united, and I agree with all of these concepts and ideas, but sometimes it feels a little abstract to us,” he said. “But investment screens like these make it really, really easy to see the literal link that unites our struggles.”

Josh Cobler ’20, co-chair of the Pilipinx American Student Union (PASU), said the struggle for climate justice goes beyond the movement to push Stanford to divest from fossil fuels.

“Just like other island nations, indigenous communities in the Philippines have been at the forefront of the climate crisis, fighting our government against dangerous mining practices that the regime has been pushing to make larger profits,” he said. “Even today, the Philippines remains the most dangerous country in the world for climate activists, with the highest number of killings of environmental defenders of any country.”

Thirty environmental activists were killed in 2018, more than any other country in that year, according to the watchdog group Global Witness. 

Cobler said that pushing Stanford to divest from fossil fuels is just one step “in our journey toward creating social justice, economic justice, racial justice and environmental justice, in this country and outside of it.”

“The first step in our fight for environmental justice is to recognize our past wrongs and actively address the harm that we are causing here at Stanford,” Cobler continued. “That means using the immense power and privilege of our institution to divest from fossil fuels.”

Vance Kaleohano Farrant ’21, co-president of Hui o Nā Moku, said that divestment from fossil fuels is insufficient and that the University should divest from the extractive industries, which involve removing natural resources not just from the ground, but from an “extractive mentality” as well.

“It’s still a very extractive mentality to think about using a place for its qualities and wanting to abuse and take advantage of all the opportunities that we see — oil in the ground, stars in the sky,” he said, referring to the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. “Really, we need to talk about divestment from all extractive industries and all extractive mindsets.”

Sophia Manolis ’23, a member of Fossil Free Stanford, who has also written for The Daily, described the rally as intended to highlight the different communities that are impacted by Stanford’s investments.

“We wanted to show that this is not just about one single issue or one single group,” she said. “A lot of these issues relate to the livelihood and well-being of students on this campus, and about the human rights of the communities that students on this campus are from.”

Zoe Brownwood ’22, another member of Fossil Free Stanford, expressed her satisfaction with the attendance at the rally from diverse campus organizations.

“Something we’re really focusing on, Fossil Free, is being more collaborative with other campus organizations and activist movements on campus,” she said. “It’s really great to see people from all different parts of campus coming out.”

Nancy Chang ’20 commended the rally’s emphasis on indigenous peoples.

“The rally was deliberately and so well intentionally structured and focused on indigenous voices and indigenous sovereignty on how land should be managed,” Chang said.

Fossil Free Stanford met with the Board of Trustees last quarter to discuss the student organization’s proposals for University divestment. After the board met again with the group this week, Board of Trustees Chair Jeff Raikes ’80 said the board is expected to make a final decision on these proposals before the end of the academic year.

Contact Michael Espinosa at mesp2021 ‘at’

Michael Espinosa '22 is majoring in international relations. He's the head of The Daily's social media team, and editor for the University beat and also occasionally writes for sports, arts, and The Grind. He's the biggest Taylor Swift fan at Stanford and the proudest New Yorker you will ever meet. Contact him at mespinosa 'at'

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