The faculty report on fossil fuels is just another stalling tactic. We need divestment now.


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In 2015, I was part of the campaign that resulted in the University of California’s entire system disengaging from fossil fuels.


So you can imagine my surprise when, arriving at Princeton for my graduate degree in climate policy seven years later, I discovered that not only had the University not caved, but it had one of the largest fossil fuel investments of any university endowment: $1.7 billion. invested in fossil fuels, as well as $26 million in research funding from the fossil fuel industry in the past five years alone.

In 2022, despite everything we know about climate change, Princeton is still stagnating. This looks especially bad considering that hundreds of other universities have already committed to divest, including Harvard, Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, Rutgers, Georgetown, Boston, Cornell…the list goes on. If the University is to align its actions with its mission to be “in service to humanity” and maintain its world-class stature, Princeton must divest immediately. This means that there is no more investment in fossil fuels in the endowment or in research funding.

The University took years to arrive at its latest development: a faculty report recommending criteria for partial dissociation. The “partial dissociation” was first announced in May 2021, after years of student advocacy. However, the decoupling plans only include oil sands, coal and companies that continue to be involved in climate misinformation. Oil and gas – which account for the vast majority of fossil fuel emissions – are notably absent, as are companies that have been involved in climate misinformation in the past. Instead of a clear timeline or process, President Eisgruber chose to form a new group of professors, who just published their new report in June 2022 – another step in a long process of bureaucratic blockage. Yet even if and when Princeton finally achieves partial decoupling, it still leaves plenty of room for continued investment in companies committed to destroying our planet and compromised research funding to shape climate research. and political priorities.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that some of Princeton’s biggest donors have significant stakes in the fossil fuel industry. Take, for example, the Querrey Simpson Charitable Foundation, which funds the Louis A. Simpson Center for the Study of Macroeconomics and the Louis A. Simpson International Building. The late Louis Simpson himself served on the board of the Princeton Investment Company while simultaneously serving as a director of Chesapeake Energy, one of the largest fossil fuel companies in the United States. Or take the Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund, which, in addition to donating millions to Princeton, actively funds the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that downplays climate change. It makes sense for the University to temper its message on fossil fuels if it wants to continue accepting these donations.

But there’s also another problem here besides the endowment: the fossil fuel money that funds climate and energy research at Princeton. Specifically, the Andlinger Center for Energy and Environment is funded by ExxonMobil and the Carbon Mitigation Initiative is funded by British Petroleum. While some may argue that industry-academia partnerships support important climate and energy research, fossil fuel-funded programs ultimately allow polluting corporations to “greenwash” their image while continuing to lobby against climate policies and spread misinformation.

Fossil fuel money also threatens academic independence and integrity. Fossil fuel-funded research tends to focus on technologies that keep the fossil fuel industry alive and thriving, such as carbon offsets and carbon capture, instead of breaking up big oil companies and deploying rapid renewable energy. In fact, it’s hard to imagine any scenario in which a funder’s interest would not impact research results (eg, Marlboro funding tobacco research). Research published by Princeton helps shape the narrative around energy and climate. If this information is compromised, we are doing a huge disservice to our planet and everyone on it.

Princeton must fully and immediately withdraw its endowment and research funds from fossil fuels if it is to maintain its credibility and live up to its public service values. Like more than 1,500 institutions that have already divested — including universities, pension funds, philanthropies, cities, and even an entire state like Maine — Princeton’s divestment would not only pull in huge sums money from a rotten industry, but could also provide momentum elsewhere.

Instead of investing in oil and gas companies and accepting funding from fossil fuel interests, Princeton has the opportunity to be a leader. I implore the University to do more and better with our money, and all who benefit from Princeton’s investments to take action by doing one or more of the following:

(1) Sign the open letter banning donations until divestment, joining the more than 3,000 Princeton alumni, students, faculty, staff and parents who have signed the second-largest petition in Princeton history. ‘university ;

(2) sign the legal complaint filed with the New Jersey Attorney General in February 2022 to compel Princeton to fully divest; and

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(3) for Princeton faculty or staff or professors emeritus, sign the petition requesting a full divestment.

All this, for the future we all deserve.

Claire Kaufman is a first-year MPA graduate student at SPIA studying international climate policy in Los Angeles, California. She can be contacted at [email protected].


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