From the Community | An inclusive dialogue on fossil fuel money must happen

April 4, 2023, 9:27 p.m.

Our generation has witnessed countless paradigm shifts. In each, community dialogue has been at the heart. From demanding acceptance of same-sex couples at prom to marching with Fridays for Future, we have seen firsthand how change can be achieved through shared conversations around common values.

Last May, we formed the Coalition for a True School of Sustainability to challenge Stanford’s acceptance of research funding from fossil fuel companies for industrial affiliate programs in the newly-formed Doerr School of Sustainability. Our concerns were heard by Dean Majumdar, who promised to solicit student feedback through a listening tour. 

In the fall, we called on the Dean to include town-hall style events in the listening tour, in addition to smaller, department-specific sessions. This request was not met, and as a result, many community members outside the Doerr School who had direct or indirect involvement through cross-campus collaborations were not included in these listening tour sessions. We believe such a siloed process is detrimental to the collaborative community discussion needed on an issue as impactful as fossil-fuel funding for research.

However, the listening tour did lead to the formation of a Committee on Funding for Energy Research and Education (CFERE), which expands the conversation with stakeholders university-wide: a commendable step taken by Stanford. CFERE has announced opportunities to submit comments and request small-group meetings. 

However, we remain concerned that the committee and the school’s leadership have not been sufficiently open in their proceedings, thus hindering true and inclusive dialogue. The current approach funnels conversation through controlled channels, rather than allowing them to evolve through collaborative, democratic dialogue. CFERE’s final report is expected to be delivered by the end of spring quarter, a very short turnaround period for a subject of this magnitude. Yet CFERE still has the opportunity to create more transparent dialogue than what we experienced in the fall.

We believe that the risks of ongoing collaboration with fossil fuel companies, even for ostensibly climate-friendly purposes, will be obvious in hindsight. The Coalition has published our policy recommendations with evidence to support this stance. But putting our research aside for a moment, our overall aim is to build a process through which we can work toward a future goal together. Specifically, that goal is focused on 2030: the start of the critical decade in which, as reiterated by recent reports from the IPCC and Stanford itself, projected CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure will exceed the remaining carbon budget for 1.5°C.

Recognizing both the magnitude of this crisis and the need for community involvement, we are hosting our own community dialogue, open to the full Stanford community, on April 6. The event is called “Vision 2030,” a start towards shaping a shared vision for how the Doerr School and Stanford can evolve to become compatible with science-backed climate goals. Our hope is that this event can facilitate dialogue across groups who have not yet engaged face-to-face through existing channels. We recognize that untangling institutional ties with fossil fuel companies will require a thorough and careful process with all parties engaged.

We also recognize that even this 3-hour event is nowhere near enough. Our goal is a truly inclusive dialogue that yields a common understanding and common goals, rather than one-way communication channels where final recommendations are handed down unilaterally. Therefore, the Coalition aims to help facilitate a broader, more strategic conversation, including a deliberative democracy approach that is fully cross-sectional and representative. We are actively working with Doerr School staff to bring these plans into reality.

The pace of change in our world is unprecedented, and the climate movement is the largest, broadest societal movement in history. Decades of research and activism have brought us this moment. And as we navigate this latest paradigm shift of removing bias in sustainability and environmental research, we believe it is crucial to find a path together, through shared dialogue. We hope you will join us.

Signed,

The Coalition for a True School of Sustainability 

Undersigned:

Alexi Lindeman, Undergraduate 

Amanda Campos, Undergraduate

Belinda Ramírez, COLLEGE Fellow

Bill Gorham, Class of 1974

Daly Wettermark, Masters Student in Civil and Environmental Engineering

June Choi, PhD student in Earth System Science

Max Kessler, PhD Candidate in Mechanical Engineering

Tess Hegarty, PhD Candidate in Civil and Environmental Engineering

Thom Hersbach, Post-Doctoral Fellow in Electrochemistry

Yannai Kashtan, PhD Candidate in Earth System Science

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