The following is an open letter and reflects the authors’ views alone. For information on how to submit a piece to the Opinion section, click here.
Dear Princeton Trustees and President Eisgruber,
One year ago, the Board of Trustees announced that Princeton would dissociate from 90 coal and tar sands companies and divest all its direct and indirect holdings in publicly traded fossil fuel companies. Today, we call on the University to make good on those promises.
These remarkable decisions were welcomed by many on campus and around the world. It was later confirmed that the divestment commitment was worth one billion dollars of the University’s endowment, which accounted for 60 percent of its fossil fuel holdings. At least five of the 90 companies on the list were recognizable names: ExxonMobil, NRG Energy, Total, Suncor, and Syncrude. While a step in the right direction, there were still issues with the commitment. Only 10 of the companies on this dissociation list have had a recent or current relationship with Princeton at the time of the announcement. As a result, the University promised to dissociate from 80 companies with which it had no association, but left its relationships with BP and Shell intact.
Since the University’s announcement, we have seen unprecedented climate disasters which have caused immeasurable loss across the country and the world. Scientists, including those working for the fossil fuel industry, have been predicting these climate catastrophes for decades.
Given the urgency of the climate crisis and the potential impact the University could have as a climate leader, our community needs a transparent update on the state of the divestment and dissociation initiative. The University must make good on its past promises, but it must also commit to more ambitious goals to combat the impending and apparent climate crisis. We ask the Princeton administration:
- Has Princeton completed the divestment of all its holdings in publicly traded fossil fuel companies?
- Will Princeton divest the approximately $700 million it still has invested in privately held fossil fuel companies, known to be amongst the highest emitting and least responsible fossil fuel companies?
- Has Princeton completed its dissociation from the 90 companies on the list? When will Princeton dissociate from all fossil fuel companies? And when will dissociation return to its original meaning and encompass non-financial partnerships and on-campus activity, including recruiting?
- Will Princeton refuse BP funding and bring to an end its extensive presence and influence on campus through the Carbon Mitigation Initiative?
- Who is funding the new Energy Research Fund, created by the University in the wake of the dissociation announcement? Is it receiving fossil fuel funding? Can dissociated companies, including ExxonMobil, be corporate partners for the Energy Seed Grant and other official nonfinancial partnerships?
- When will the University set a target for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across the University’s endowment portfolio, as promised by the Board of Trustees in 2021?
- Will the University update the timeframe of the net-zero goal from 2046 to a date in line with the urgency of the climate crisis, ideally closer to 2030?
Shortly after the University’s announcement last year, the Attorney General of New Jersey filed a lawsuit that alleges that ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, the American Petroleum Institute, and Princeton partners BP and Shell are liable for damages to the state caused by global warming. It also claims that these parties have committed fraud by failing to warn the public about the dangers of unchecked carbon emissions. It defies belief that the state government — whose chief executive sits on the Princeton Board of Trustees — is suing these companies, yet the University continues to support them. The Princeton community was encouraged by the promises made a year ago, but those words need to be followed up with bold action and true leadership.
Alex Norbrook ’26
Eleanor Clemans-Cope ’26
Aaron Serianni ’25
Nate Howard ’25
Anna Hiltner ’23
Hannah Reynolds ’22
Tom Taylor GS ’21