Bill Gorham received his BS in Biology from Stanford in 1974, then earned an MS and PhD at other schools. He was a professor at the University of the Virgin Islands and California Lutheran University for a decade prior to a 30-year career as a Principal Biologist and Associate Vice President with AECOM. Since retiring in 2017, he has focused on climate activism.
Both Celina Scott-Buechler and Yannai Kastan’s May 12 Opinion article and Nina Berlin Rubin, Marius von Essen, Anna Gomes, Brian Rogers and Laurel Regibeau-Rockett’s May 18 Opinion and associated Open Letter to Dean Majumdar in The Daily advocate for the new School of Sustainability to reject financial support from fossil fuel companies.
Over the years these companies have provided considerable financial support to different programs at Stanford, which has been valuable to the school, faculty members and students. For that support, the companies have gained access to extremely talented research scientists and engineers and first chance at hiring Stanford’s top students. By being associated with Stanford’s top-flight research programs, these companies have also received good publicity and burnished their reputation for innovation. All these benefits have come at a very cost-effective price to them.
Unfortunately, the fossil fuel industry has a well-documented history of half-truths, deception and misinformation — all with the intent of slowing action on addressing the causes of and effects from global warming. These actions have been both direct by the companies and indirect through industry organizations. As clarity on the causes and effects of global warming has increased, the fossil fuel companies’ tactics have evolved from denying climate change was occurring to delaying action to deal with it.
They are quite experienced in greenwashing, so even now, they tout programs for carbon capture and storage, clean biofuels, low- or no-carbon synthetic fuels and other questionable (and thus far uneconomic) programs. At the same time, they are investing only pennies on the dollar on so-called green energy projects compared to their investment in extracting, refining and selling petroleum and natural gas.
Stanford Alumni for Climate Action is a group of climate activist alumni who support the current effort to have the School of Sustainability reject money from fossil fuel companies. We applaud Stanford’s leadership in addressing climate change as demonstrated by the opening of the new School. However, we are concerned about the negative influence that these companies can have in solving the extremely urgent crises resulting from climate change.
We will continue to monitor the evolution of the new School and will reflect on how best to support the School of Sustainability in particular and the University in general based on what meaningful actions are taken by the administration in its association with fossil fuel companies.