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Princeton Sustainable Investment Initiative releases petition for divestment

The Princeton Sustainable Investment Initiative released apetitionto the University on Sunday proposing that the University divest from coal and, eventually, all fossil fuels.

The group'sproposalfrom last year was rejected by University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83, the University Resources Committee and Princeton University Investment Company, which manages the University’s endowment.


According to University Media Relations Specialist Min Pullan, the University handles petitions on divestment through the Council of Princeton University Community Resources Committee.

Pullan declined to further comment on the petition, noting that it would be inappropriate to provide comments in advance of that process.

Last year's petition received roughly 1,700 signatures from members of the campus community, according to PSII leader Leigh Anne Schriever ’16. 73 percent of the signatories were undergraduates, nine percent were graduate students, 11 percent were alumni and two percent were faculty. Staff, community, student family, postdoctoral students and others comprised one percent each.

“I think there’s a substantial difference in the proposal we’re making this year,” PSII leader Jonathan Balkind GS, a third year graduate student studying computer science, said. “We were asking for a lot more [last year].”

PSII leader Charles Copeland ’19 noted that this year’s petition directly calls for divestment from fossil fuels while last year’s aimed for broader, more general institutional change.

This year, the Sustainable Investment Proposal cites climate change as its main target, specifically focusing on fossil fuels’ link to climate change. The petition asks that the University “immediately remove all its holding in all coal extraction companies” and “commit to a gradual reduction and eventual end to its investments in all other fossil fuels.”


Copeland explained that, after many discussions, the group came to a consensus to rally around fossil fuels, particularly coal because of its hazardous environmental consequences. He added that coal is largely falling out of use in developed countries.

Last year's petition and proposalcalledfor the University to adopt the UN Principles of Responsible Investment, sign onto the Carbon Disclosure Project to encourage transparency of emissions, calculate and publish the endowment’s carbon footprint annually, establish a student committee to monitor environmentally damaging practices and require all of the endowment’s asset managers to implement the committee’s plan.

Copeland said he thinks there is a lot of room for more student engagement this year.

Copeland said that one of the most compelling arguments against fossil fuels is that some will have to remain untouched so that the planet’s temperature does not increase by another two degrees Celsius, the limit scientists have set to avoid drastic climate change.

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“I think that the University has a moral obligation to protect the planet and also to serve all nations,” Balkind said.

Noting that the University’s rate of return for the endowment has performed above the market for a number of years, Balkind noted he thinks that the University can perform above the market regardless of whether it invests in fossil fuels.

Schriever noted that she is hopeful about this year’s project but recognizes that divestment from South African apartheid took 10 years to be accomplished at the University. Protests were first held in 1969 in opposition to the University's investment in South African companies, and it wasn't until a 1978 sit-in that the University revisited its policy, although it never fully divested, according to a Mudd Manuscript Library Blog.

Schriever added that last year, at the meeting at which the University rejected PSII’s proposal, there was a protest of around 40 students.

“For me, that was a ‘no, we’re not going away,’ and it had a lot of people who were not even on PSII,” Schriever said. “That meant a lot to me. They showed up and they still did care about this and showed that the community was behind this.”

Schriever explained that PSII plans to work with alumni and to attend Reunions, renew interest on campus and to persist in a dialogue with the administration.