The Princeton University Board of Trustees voted on Sept. 29 to “eliminate all holdings in publicly traded fossil fuel companies,” and disassociate from 90 fossil fuel-related companies. The companies include those “active in the thermal coal or tar sands segments of the fossil fuel industry,” according to the university, including ExxonMobil, and Total and Syncrude, which have recently funded research at the university.
The decision comes two years after Divest Princeton—a coalition of students, faculty, staff and alumni—first sent a letter to the university asking for divestment from fossil fuel companies, although concerned parties have been organizing around divestment for a decade.
“This is a tremendous step for the Princeton community, as divestment has been on the table for almost a decade and has had especially broad support in the past few years, while I was a student,” said Hannah Reynolds, Princeton alumnus and co-coordinator emeritus of Divest Princeton, in a statement. “We filed a legal complaint in February of this year with the State Attorney General in New Jersey, alongside four other university divestment campaigns at Yale, MIT, Vanderbilt, and Stanford, about our universities’ failure to divest. We hope that other universities will join in holding fossil fuel companies accountable for their egregious pollution and continued climate disinformation, and put their students and alumni first.”
“This is a huge deal for Princeton and for the world,” added Anna Hiltner, a current Princeton student and co-coordinator emeritus of Divest Princeton. “When Divest Princeton started, not many people knew what to think of divestment, or what it meant. We were told that it wasn’t possible. But after organizing for a couple of months, we saw the conversations in classes changing, and began to receive overwhelming support. I want students, faculty, staff, and alumni across the country to look at this decision and know that it is possible to enact change at their institutions. Maybe it will take a decade, and it shouldn’t take a decade, but movements like ours don’t back down. In a climate crisis, we don’t have the luxury of backing down.”
Princeton has $1.7 billion of its endowment invested in fossil fuels, according to Divest Princeton.
Princeton determined the list of companies from which to divest after a panel of faculty experts issued recommendations in a report in May. Divest Princeton notes that some fossil fuel companies did not make the divestment list, notably Shell and BP, which have or are currency funding research at the university.
Princeton will offset the funding lost by disassociating from fossil fuel funders by launching a fund to support energy research at the university.
“Princeton will have the most significant impact on the climate crisis through the scholarship we generate and the people we educate,” said President Christopher L. Eisgruber, in announcing the decision. “The creation of this new fund is one of several ways that the University is helping to provide Princeton researchers with the resources they need to pursue this work.”
Concerned parties have called for divestment from fossil fuel companies by universities, governments and more, and with increased frequency, those calls are being answered. Rutgers University announced last year that it will divest from fossil fuel companies, and a movement has been building for a while for the state of NJ to similarly divest its pension fund.
Not only do investments in fossil fuel companies contribute to climate change, but they’re also not the lucrative investments they once were thought to be.