Doerr Donation Will Create a Much Needed Climate School At Stanford

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Stanford University is the recipient of a $1.1 billion endowment to fund a sustainability and climate school. John and Ann Doerr have provided the gift, which is the largest ever to a university for the establishment of a new school. The Doerr donation is an affirmation of the need for climate change research and scholarship and will place Stanford at the center of public and private efforts to transition the world away from fossil fuels.

“We’ve got to be clear about the problem,” John Doerr stated. “I believe this is a problem of scale that needs far greater ambition, urgency, and excellence deployed against it.”

The Doerr School for Sustainability is Stanford’s first new school in 70 years.

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Who are the Doerrs? John Doerr is one of the most successful venture capitalists in the history of Silicon Valley. The family’s estimated $11.3 billion fortune arose from investing in technology companies such as Slack, Google, and Amazon. Ann Doerr is chair of Khan Academy, former board member and current advisory board member of the Environmental Defense Fund, and former trustee of Rice University. At Stanford, she has served as a member of Stanford Medicine’s Cancer Council and Under One Umbrella Steering Committee.

What has John Doerr published about the climate crisis? Last year John Doerr published a book called Speed & Scale: An Action Plan for Solving Our Climate Crisis Now.“ Former US Vice President Al Gore says the book is “a critical blueprint for anyone looking to take concrete steps to reach net-zero emissions.” The Doerr family was first inspired to address climate change after watching Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth.

What will the climate school curricula be like? The school, to be known as the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, will be a home to traditional academic departments related to topics such as planetary science, energy technology, and food-and-water security.

Why was it important to include the word “sustainability” in the school’s name? The choice of the word “sustainability” in the school’s name signals the urgent need for scholarship and new, high-impact solutions to foster a sustainable future. The school will focus on 3 broad areas: Earth, Climate, and Society.

Will the areas of study reach across disciplines? Yes. It will feature several interdisciplinary institutes and a center focused on developing practical policy and technology solutions to the climate crisis. The school will have academic departments that advance subject understanding, interdisciplinary institutes that innovate across multiple intersecting fields, and an accelerator focused on developing near-term policy and technology solutions.

How will the new climate school be staffed? The Doerr School for Sustainability will launch with 90 faculty members and add 60 more over the next 10 years.

What areas of scholarship will the new climate school’s focus? The new school has been designed to power excellence in 8 areas of scholarship that, together, are crucial for advancing the long-term prosperity of the planet: climate change, Earth and planetary sciences, energy technology, sustainable cities, the natural environment, food and water security, human society and behavior, and human health and the environment.

What is the new Sustainability Accelerator at the climate school? The new Sustainability Accelerator will drive policy and technology solutions. It will help advance high-potential technologies by providing laboratories, tools, and domain expertise to help researchers refine and scale prototypes. The accelerator will also support interdisciplinary policy design and engagement with external stakeholders. Competitive grants given by the accelerator will help develop sustainability technologies, policies, and innovations, and emphasize measurable impacts through partnership with the external community, connecting directly to needs in government, industry, and other outside entities.

Will the new climate school delve into advocacy? Arun Majumdar, who was named as the school’s inaugural dean and has advised the Obama and Biden administrations on energy issues, told the New York Times that the school “would provide context and analysis around climate change issues but would stop short of advocacy.“ However, Stanford University president Marc Tessier-Lavigne added, “The school will absolutely focus on policy issues and on asking what would it take to move the world toward more sustainable practices and better behaviors.”

Has the Doerr family funding attracted other philanthropists? Yes. The university said it had raised an additional $590 million alongside the gift from the Doerrs. Some of the funds would be used to construct 2 new buildings. The combined gifts, totaling $1.69 billion, will shepherd the creation of a new kind of school focused on cultivating deep knowledge and high-impact solutions to pressing planetary challenges.

Will the new climate school prohibit fossil fuel donations? No. Majumdar said that the new school would work with and accept donations from fossil fuel companies. Even though not every oil and gas company endorses the need for climate schools, Stanford University will acknowledge fossil capitalists who seek sustainability diversification.

What are the Doerrs doing to promote climate crisis philanthropy? The Doerrs are signatories to the Giving Pledge, which is a promise by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to charitable causes.

Are there other wealthy philanthropists who are focused on the climate crisis?

  • Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said in 2020 said he was committing $10 billion of his own money to a new initiative he called the Bezos Earth Fund.
  • Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, said in 2019 he would spend $500 million to help close coal-fired power plants.
  • Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, has put billions of dollars to work on climate related issues through various efforts, including Breakthrough Energy and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

What is the largest donation ever to an academic institution? Michael R. Bloomberg’s 2018 donation of $1.8 billion to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, ranks higher.

Are there other climate schools in the US? Yes. The Columbia Climate School nurtures and supports innovative research in the sciences, consequences, and human dimensions of climate change, and inquiry into methods of achieving a more sustainable and just world. Its mission is to develop and inspire knowledge-based solutions and educate the world’s future leaders for just and prosperous societies on a healthy planet.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack:

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