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Last month, a senior lobbyist from Princeton’s research partner and donor, ExxonMobil, spoke with undercover activists about the ways in which the company has strategically undermined climate science and lobbied senators to block climate action legislation. The lobbyist, Keith McCoy, also suggested that ExxonMobil’s support for a carbon tax is purely performative, calling it an “advocacy tool” that could not be feasibly implemented.
In the video, which has been widely reported on, McCoy said, “Did we aggressively fight against some of the science? Yes … Did we join some of these shadow groups to work against some of the early efforts? Yes, that's true.”
Journalists, scholars, and activists already know about Exxon’s efforts to undermine climate science and action through analysis of ExxonMobil's own documents and activities. What makes the video striking is that we finally see a senior ExxonMobil official admitting to the company’s historical and ongoing behavior on tape.
While ExxonMobil leadership have claimed that the lobbyist “in no way represents the company’s position on a variety of issues,” this claim would be easier to defend if not for Exxon’s “egregious” track record on climate, according to a report compiled by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Despite McCoy’s open admission of ExxonMobil’s continuing climate disinformation and obstruction, Princeton's Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment remains in a research partnership with the company.
On signing the partnership with ExxonMobil in 2015, Andlinger Center Director Lynn Loo said, “We’re not just taking their money and are happy with what they’re telling us … We’re good partners because we challenge each other.” The evidence shows that either Princeton has not actually challenged ExxonMobil, or that it hasn’t worked.
In response to a message from a Divest Princeton member on the matter, University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 reiterated that the University Board of Trustees plan to establish criteria for dissociating from companies spreading climate disinformation. But when urged to denounce ExxonMobil’s clear climate obstruction, Eisgruber suggested that Andlinger-ExxonMobil funded research at Princeton is more beneficial for the planet than “any sort of denunciation.”
This assertion is deeply troubling — it suggests that Princeton cannot discuss, let alone criticize, the behavior of research partners. Inadequate as it may be, if the University’s recent announcement that it would dissociate from companies engaged in climate disinformation is to have any meaning, Princeton must take a stand here.
Divest Princeton, which represents thousands of Princeton students, alumni, faculty, and staff, calls on President Eisgruber to immediately:
- Publicly condemn ExxonMobil’s attempts to undermine climate science and action,
- End Princeton University’s partnership with ExxonMobil, and
- Sell any of Princeton University’s investments in ExxonMobil.
ExxonMobil is betting that, as usual, the world will soon forget about this latest scandal. McCoy states, "the bottom line is it's going to take political courage — political will — in order to get something done, and that just doesn't exist in politics. It just doesn't.”
As an institution that prides itself on its "core truth-seeking mission and commitment to sustainability," and as an institution that has repeatedly celebrated its partnership with ExxonMobil, Princeton has a responsibility to act. But will it have the courage?
Silence is complicity.
The authors of this piece are members of Divest Princeton, a volunteer organization urging the University to divest and dissociate from unsustainable fossil fuel companies. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cory Alperstein ’78 majored in history.
Lynne Archibald ’87 majored in the policy school.
Hannah Reynolds is a rising senior in the anthropology department. She is a columnist at the ‘Prince.’
Isabel Rodrigues is a rising junior in the geosciences department. She is Head Podcast Editor and Head Copy Editor at the ‘Prince.’
Tom Taylor GS ’21 was an MPA student at SPIA.
Mauro Windholz is a 3rd Year PhD student in the music department.