Students and faculty urge president to sign carbon pricing letter

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Students and faculty are calling on University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne to urge elected officials to put a price on carbon emissions. Over 25 faculty and 40 students have signed the petition as of Thursday, which asks Tessier-Lavigne to sign a letter committing to this demand, all while the University continues planning a new sustainability school.

The letter, written by Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), targets university presidents because they are “community leaders and highly influential with their members of Congress.” Governments normally put a price on carbon by using one of two main strategies: taxing carbon emissions at a per-ton rate or through a cap-and-trade program.

Catherine Luo ’23, a member of Students for a Sustainable Stanford, has led the effort to gather signatures on the petition and believes that putting a price on carbon should be critical in a national climate plan. 

“It’s not the silver bullet,” she told The Daily. “But it’s one of the key factors of a successful climate policy.”

Economics professor Lawrence Goulder Ph.D. ’82, who signed the petition, told The Daily that putting a price on carbon might cost the economy, but the benefits of avoiding damage from climate change and improvements in health outweigh those costs, assuming the price of carbon is not too high.

“I’ve often said these forms of regulation or these policies may not be a free lunch,” Goulder said. “But all the analyses that all the environmental economists do, including myself, indicate it’s well worth buying this lunch.”

Luo has already met with University officials, including the chief of staff to the president and the leaders from the Office of Sustainability. According to University spokesperson E.J. Miranda, Tessier-Lavigne is aware of the petition and “his staff is consulting with faculty experts on the request.” 

Goulder’s not alone in his stance on carbon pricing. Over 3,500 economists across the country have signed a statement endorsing a tax on carbon, including Graduate School of Business finance professor Paul Pfleiderer. 

“I had no trouble signing this because I strongly believe that you can’t make significant progress on climate change until we get the price of our activities incorporating the cost of putting carbon into the atmosphere,” Pfliederer, who also signed the petition, told The Daily.

The economists’ statement goes farther than CCL’s letter, calling for the revenues from a carbon tax to be redistributed to families. According to Goulder, such payments would help reduce the potential impact of a carbon tax on low-income households, which spend a greater proportion of their income on carbon-intensive activities such as home heating or transportation.

Luo and Kunal Sinha ’24, a member of Fossil Free Stanford, have focused their efforts on persuading faculty to sign the petition. Both observed that some professors consider signing the petition to be a political statement, and therefore have declined to do so.

However, Sinha believes that all actions are inherently political and the spheres of academia and politics, “aren’t really as separate as they would have us believe.”

Pfleiderer added that some professors might not sign anything they didn’t write themselves, while others might have reservations about the wording of said petition.

“If someone doesn’t sign a petition, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t agree with it,” Pfleiderer said.

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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' stanforddaily.com.