Stanford, Steyer, and institutional allies

Here’s a little wrinkle on yesterday’s news about Stanford’s coal divestment:

Billionaire Tom Steyer sits on Stanford’s board of trustees; actually, he’s vice-chair.  Steyer, formerly an extremely successful hedge fund manager, has been raising money for liberal and Democratic candidates for office for thirty years, and has recently announced a commitment to spend at least $100 million to make climate change an issue in this year’s elections.

Tom Steyer and Kat Taylor

He and his wife, Kathryn Ann Taylor, donated $40 million to establish the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy and the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford in 2008.  Steyer is a committed opponent of the Keystone Pipeline.  He is the founder and chief funder of NextGen Climate, an advocacy organization that aims to put climate change at the center of political debate in America.

Meantime, Steyer and NextGen have lately gone directly after the Koch Brothers, the most visible billionaires funding climate skepticism.  The brothers turned down Steyer’s invitation to debate climate change in general and Keystone in particular, noting that they are not really experts on the science and would prefer not to speak on the issue.  OK, in America money talks too.

But back to divestment:

All considered:  I wasn’t at the meeting where Stanford trustees decided how to respond to Fossil Free, but:

Stanford trustees could see an even bigger upside financially to taking a stance against coal.  Stanford trustees were likely to be exposed to powerful arguments about fossil fuels and climate change, made more powerful by the sponsorship of a generous and active supporter of the university.

It helps to have allies in powerful positions.

And institutional power matters.

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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