Opening remarks from Dean Arun Majumdar
Dean, Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability
Thank you all for joining me today.
I want to start with an indigenous proverb that is painted on my office walls:
We do not inherit this earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.
Many of us are deeply concerned. And we should be.
I have been asked “What keeps you awake at night”. People expect me to say “recruiting faculty,” “new curricula” “emails” or “student protests”. Wrong answers.
Let me tell you what really keeps me awake at night.
The extreme drought and famine in East Africa that will affect over 30 million people this year. That keeps me awake at night.
The biblical floods in Pakistan due to torrential rains and melting glaciers. More than 500 children have died, and thousands have been displaced. They are not going back to their land because nothing is left. That keeps me awake at night.
The unbearable heat wave that Western US, Europe, China and India faced this year. Temperatures rose above 120 F in India. Birds fell out of the sky. Half of the people who work in India, work outdoors. They lost their wages. Crop yields dropped by a third. That keeps me awake at night.
And if nothing is done, such extreme events will only get worse.
Last February, after the Texas freeze, I wrote an OpEd in the New York Times with the opening line: We are playing Russian roulette with extreme weather events. It is not a question of if, but when an extreme event will reach your neighborhood.
If you put your ear to the ground and listen to mother earth, you will discover that it is our mother earth that is really protesting. She is protesting against the unfettered development over the 20th century, which has improved the quality of human life, but has also disturbed the balance of nature that life on earth requires. Mother earth is begging us to restore the atmosphere, the oceans and our biodiversity. For our own sake. For the sake of our children and grandchildren.
The students here are translating mother earth’s protest in a language that we can all understand. And they are representing the youth around the world who could not be here today.
We do not inherit this earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children. And we are defaulting on our debt.
We all share the same DNA. That is why COVID did not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion or our politics.
We all share the same atmosphere and the oceans. Climate change will not discriminate either. It is an existential threat to all of us, especially people who are less well-off around the world.
We have invented vaccines to fight COVID. We have not yet invented all the vaccines against climate change and make it available to the world. That is why we are here today.
We are blessed to live in the most innovative ecosystem in the world. We have food on our plates and homes to live in. Many others around the world are not so fortunate. It is our job to figure out how to restore the earth so that our children and grandchildren are not swept away in the tsunami of climate change.
We are here today to lock our arms together and make a pledge. Our pledge is to use all the powers we have - the knowledge, the education, the talent, the innovation, the resources, the solutions, the influence - to restore mother earth for our children and grandchildren. In the immortal words of Rev. Martin Luther King, we need to do so with the “fierce urgency of now”. That is why we are here today.
With that mission in mind, we are blessed to have people like John and Ann Doerr as well as many other donors who are providing us the foundation to launch the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability. It is Stanford’s first school in 75 years to address the defining challenge of the 21st century.
The faculty, staff, students, alums and our well-wishers have worked hard for more than 4 years to get us here. We are embarking on an experiment to reimagine and transform our campus to match the magnitude, complexity and urgency that humanity and mother earth demands.
The world is rooting for our success. We must live up to those expectations and give people real hope through solutions. We are here today to make that pledge.
We cannot do this alone. We hope other academic institutions, businesses, governments, non-profits, media and all the people join us in the fight to restore mother earth for our children and grandchildren. It is an “all hands on deck” moment. We are here today to recognize and embrace this moment in history.
In this journey ahead, we will make breakthroughs and we will make mistakes. We must high-five the successes and quickly learn from our mistakes.
And we need to be held accountable so that we are not distracted from our mission. If we don’t hold ourselves accountable, mother earth certainly will.
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