June 28, 2022

The Underside of Stanford’s New School of Sustainability?

A recent piece in The Nation magazine drew attention to the new Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability’s partnerships with fossil fuel companies.  “Stanford seems set to replicate the mistakes of past climate research,” The Nation’s Celina Scott-Buechler and Ada Statler write, “inviting conflicts of interest by soliciting fossil fuel funding, paying lip service to environmental justice, and forcing a dated and narrow-minded vision of ‘objective’ climate work.”


Almost 700 Stanford students, alumni, faculty and staff quickly signed an open letter calling for the Doerr School to refuse fossil fuel funds.


On May 4, Stanford announced the launch its new Doerr School based on a record-breaking $1.1 billion gift from legendary venture capitalist John Doerr and his wife Ann.  Stanford’s first new school in 70 years has already created media buzz.  The incoming dean, Arun Majumdar, disclosed to the New York Times that the Doerr School would accept funding from and partner with fossil fuel companies.  Almost 700 Stanford students, alumni, faculty and staff quickly signed an open letter calling for the Doerr School to refuse fossil fuel funds.  In the letter, graduate students from Stanford’s existing School of Earth ranked refusing funding from polluting industries such as fossil fuel companies as the most important measure the new school could implement.  In a different open letter earlier this March, more than 500 climate scientists and experts from various universities signed a letter with one demand – keep fossil fuel funding out of academic research, stating an “inherent conflict of interest” in climate-related research funded by the largest perpetrators of the climate crisis.


Though a growing number of schools have divested their endowments from fossil fuels, Stanford has remained staunchly opposed to divestment, The Nation notes.  The classic example, which Dean Majumdar likes to cite in defense of industry involvement in climate mitigation, is Ørsted.  Historically an oil and gas company, Ørsted transitioned its business model by 2017 and has since become the global leader in offshore wind production.  However, The Nation argues Ørsted is the exception rather than the rule: peer-reviewed research published in 2022 found that American oil and gas majors “continuously exhibit defensive attitudes to renewables investment and the need to shift from fossil fuels, explicitly stating ambitions to grow rather than reduce hydrocarbon production.”  The Doerr School will incorporate over a dozen fossil fuel-funded affiliate programs, for example, BP funded research that recently discovered 200 million barrels of oil using an algorithm developed by an alum of the Stanford Exploration Project.


In support of Doerr’s divestment, The Nation cites not only global warming, but its social justice impacts. An NAACP report, for example, that found that African Americans in the United States are 75 percent more likely to live near toxic oil and gas facilities.  The Nation calls for the Doerr School to become a model of fossil-free climate research that nourishes interdisciplinary and environmental justice scholarship.


For the full article from The Nation, click here.  If you’re ready to start your graduate school applications, contact Admitify today!