A few reactionary alumni have criticized members of the broad and burgeoning divestment movement for failing to free ourselves from gas-guzzling cars and single-use plastic (Inbox, December issue and PAW Online). It’s true that the proliferation of fossil fuels touches nearly every aspect of modern life, just as slavery’s economic impact was once inescapable — even for white abolitionists in their starched white cotton shirts.
What’s also true, as I write this on a 70-degree day in late fall in Astoria, New York, is the severity of the worsening climate crisis and its underlying causes. In 1965, the American Petroleum Society told its members that carbon dioxide would produce “marked changes in climate” by the year 2000. The fossil fuel industry has known for more than half a century the havoc it would wreak on people’s lives.
In those 50-odd years, the industry has not only sought to hide its own culpability, but waged a relentless public relations campaign, full of spurious arguments against the growing number of concerned citizens it considers its enemies. Twenty years ago, for instance, when British Petroleum began heavily promoting the term “carbon footprint,” the company did so to shift blame from corporate malfeasance to individual lifestyle choices.
Note that BP is unfortunately and inexplicably missing from the list of companies from which Princeton has committed to dissociate. For alumni truly committed to the “service of all nations” — and for anyone worried about famine and drought, fires and hurricanes, rising temperatures and rising seas — we need to keep fighting.