PAW reported the new geo-exchange heating and cooling systems, intended to make Princeton net-zero by 2046, will cost “hundreds of millions of dollars” and save far more over time (On the Campus, April issue).
Of course, this is a good thing, and Princeton will serve “as a lighthouse institution that people pay attention to,” as associate professor Forrest Meggers said in the story. True enough, in a small way, though Princeton is not the first; there are many towns, cities, and private institutions that are already moving in the same direction. And allow me to point out the disjuncture between these laudable efforts to shrink the University’s carbon footprint, and its endowment holding $1.7 billion in fossil-fuel investments (On the Campus, May issue). Princeton is still too late to be the first lighthouse on the block, since Harvard and many other institutions have already divested, while Princeton is dithering along, debating whether using a weasel-word like “dissociation” will satisfy. It doesn’t.
If Princeton makes one small patch of New Jersey carbon neutral, that’s obviously good, but (better late than never) publicly divesting from ExxonMobil might help lead the rest of the country to do likewise. Besides, 2046 is still over the horizon and may be too late anyway, whereas divestment could have an outsized impact now.
Why not triple Princeton’s lighthouse-ness? Divesting nearly $2 billion of fossil-fuel investments and investing hundreds of millions in renewable energy add up to real institutional leadership. Come on, Princeton, do the lighthouse-institution thing — what are you afraid of?