'Something Momentous is Happening': Hundreds of Stanford Professors Call For Full Fossil Fuel Divestment

Students with the group Fossil Free Stanford calling for the university to "divest the rest" and pull their holdings from all fossil fuel companies. (Photo: Fossil Free Stanford)

'Something Momentous is Happening': Hundreds of Stanford Professors Call For Full Fossil Fuel Divestment

'The urgency and magnitude of climate change call not for partial solutions,' argue more than 300 faculty members in open letter to university president and board

Hundreds of Stanford University professors published an open letter on Sunday demanding that the university divest the entirety of its holdings from all fossil fuel companies.

"If a university seeks to educate extraordinary youth so they may achieve the brightest possible future, what does it mean for that university simultaneously to invest in the destruction of that future?" asks the letter addressed to university president John Hennessy and the school Board of Trustees.

Coming in the wake of the May 2014 Board of Trustees announcement that the school would not invest in publicly traded coal companies--a decision the university faculty praised for setting a "precedent of responsibility and integrity"--the letter reasons: "Given that the university has signaled its awareness of the dangers posed by fossil fuels, what are the implications of Stanford's making only a partial confrontation with this danger?"

The letter notes that in order to stay beneath the scientifically designated 2-degree warming threshold, beyond which we face cataclysmic climate disruption, scientific consensus says we must cap fossil fuel emissions at 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide. Current fossil fuel companies claim holdings sufficient to produce 2795 gigatons.

Even after coal "is taken out of the equation," the world's oil and gas holdings still represent 978 gigatons of carbon, or nearly double the 565 gigaton cap. Thus, the decision to divest from coal, the group argues, is not enough.

"The urgency and magnitude of climate change call not for partial solutions, however admirable: they demand the more profound and thorough commitment embodied in divestment from all fossil-fuel companies," the letter states.

The letter was signed by 303 Stanford faculty members from a wide range of academic departments. Among the signatories are former Stanford president Donald Kennedy, and two Nobel Prize winners, Professor Douglas Osheroff (Physics, 1996) and Professor Roger Kornberg (Chemistry, 2006). Also included is Professor Maryam Mirzakhani, who was among the 2014 recipients of the Fields Medal, which is known as the 'Nobel Prize of Mathematics.'

According to the Stanford Daily, as of August 2013, the university's investment has an approximate value of $18.7 billion.

The faculty letter comes just weeks after the student campaign Fossil Free Stanford pledged that they would make 2015 the year they "finished what they started," by calling on the university to "divest the rest" after the coal divestment. On their Facebook page, Fossil Free Stanford praised the faculty support.

"When university faculty get this organized, you know something momentous is happening," said university senior Michael Penuelas, who serves as the faculty liaison for Fossil Free Stanford.

The Stanford letter follows a series of similar faculty initiatives, including a Harvard Faculty for Divestment letter with 226 signatories, and a Faculty Association resolution at the University of California, Berkeley.

You can read the full Stanford faculty letter here.

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