Science & Tech

Is Stanford’s New Doerr School of Sustainability Altering the Climate Change Landscape?

John Doerr gave $1.1 billion to Stanford University to found the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability. | David Paul Morris/Bloomberg – Getty Images

Rohan D. ’25

Climate change is worsening every year, and we are not doing enough to stop this trend. If we do not counter the prevalent problem of climate change, our grandchildren will be experiencing much hotter weather, where 100-degree days are regular occasions. Climate change is the effect of a variety of human activities, such as burning fossil fuels that produce heat-trapping gasses, which lead to “long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns” (United Nations). This is global warming, which is “a gradual increase in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere generally attributed to the greenhouse effect caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and other pollutants” (Oxford). The greenhouse gasses released by machines, vehicles, and factories cannot leave Earth’s atmosphere, but instead, they stay in the atmosphere and trap solar heat, contributing to the rise in the Earth’s temperature. This leads to many environmental consequences, such as glacier melting, sea-level rise, and intensified tropical storms. If nothing is done about climate change, it will lead to the demise of this planet. 

President Joe Biden originally stated his plans to adopt an agenda that promoted addressing climate change. However, voters have expressed discontent, and he is now pivoting his agenda in an attempt to satisfy his voters. President Biden recognized “two basic truths, which are at the core of his [climate change] plan: first, The United States urgently needs to embrace greater ambition on a global scale to meet the scope of this challenge, and secondly, our environment and our economy are completely and totally connected” ( President Biden is saying that the citizens of the US need to start caring about climate change because our environment has an effect on how much money we make as a country. He promised many elements of his plan, such as to make sure that US citizens are using all clean energy and reach net-zero emissions by 2050, convey the magnitude of the threat of climate change to the rest of the world, and “stand up to the abuse of power by polluters who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities” ( President Biden wants to However, this was at the start of his presidency. Recently, President Biden has been under fire for the rise in gas prices, which have resulted in record-breaking highs around the country. This is because he raised gas prices to encourage people to use less gas in an attempt to reduce carbon emissions. Biden, whose approval ratings decreased due to the price pressures, wants to reduce climate change, but he is prioritizing voter content; because of this, he is ordered the release of two million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in an attempt to bring relief to his voters (Washington Post). This decision by President Biden represents a complex problem that people around the world are trying to answer: how can we reduce climate change without affecting our personal lives? It is especially difficult to affect change globally if people are not in full support of climate change policies, or if they prioritize their own lives and conveniences. Even though governments carry a lot of power, it is also very complicated to mix politics into climate change because of the conflicts of interest. So, what are the best ways to attack this problem?

Line graphs of future temperature projections from IPCC AR3
Interactive graph of future climate projections based on different human emission pathways.

 Screenshot of a former interactive graph of future climate projections based on different human emission pathways. |

One idea is the establishment of the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability. John Doerr, a successful venture capitalist from Silicon Valley, donated $1.1 billion to Stanford University to “fund a school focused on climate change and sustainability” (New York Times). This will be the 34th school centered around sustainability at United States universities, which shows that climate change is gaining traction. However, others disapprove of how Doerr used his donation; they think that it will have too small significance to cause change. For example, “I don’t see how giving a billion dollars to a rich university is going to move the needle on this issue in a near-term time frame,” said David Callahan, author of The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age. “It’s nice that he’s parting with his money, but that billion dollars could be better spent trying to move this up on the scale of public opinion. Until the public sees this as a top-tier issue, politicians are not going to act.” Mr. Callahan is stating that the legislature must influence the common electorate because that is the only way that civilians will pay attention to the issue at hand; a new school at a university will do nothing to change public opinion. Nevertheless, Mr. Doerr said that was not the purpose of his donation. Instead, he said he hoped that the gift would inspire other wealthy individuals to spend their fortunes combating climate change. “This is going to take more than one institution,” Mr. Doerr said. “Just like we have multiple medical schools, we need multiple sustainability schools to get the job done.”

That begs the question about the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability: is this just an academic formality, or is there a chance of success? Some, such as Mr. Callahan, believe that this is simply a waste of money. Others, such as Mr. Doerr, think that this school will start turning the tides of public opinion on climate change. They both are true. The Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability shows that some people are starting to take the issue of climate change more seriously. It also demonstrates that we are making progress; sustainability schools did not exist a few years ago. Furthermore, Mr. Doerr pointed to the example of medical schools educating the next generation of physicians, and why it is important to create scientists focused on fixing climate change. On the other hand, climate change is a pressing, time-sensitive problem. A time-sensitive problem calls for urgent solutions, but none have been presented. Therefore, this is partially a waste of money if we want to solve climate change as soon as possible. Because of this, Mr. Callahan is right: we need our government to act. That is the only way our citizens will start taking climate change seriously: when their personal lives are affected. However, when everything becomes more expensive, such as gas, our citizens retaliate. This explains why politics is such a slippery slope for issues like climate change. Nevertheless, the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability is a big step in the right direction.

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