It is disheartening that after more than two years of sustained and thoughtful work by Divest Princeton, supported by over 3,000 students, alumni, faculty and staff, our president refuses to consider the scientific, economic and financial reasons for divestment, choosing instead to repeat disinformation. In his recent President’s Page in the May 2022 edition of the Princeton Alumni Weekly, President Eisgruber falls back on two examples of parsing or using almost-truths to convey the wrong idea:
“But divestment, no matter how carefully designed, will not take a single molecule of carbon out of the atmosphere. When Princeton sells shares in a company, somebody else is buying those shares.”
Apart from natural carbon sinks like trees, the only thing that might actually remove carbon molecules from the atmosphere is carbon capture and sequestration — the love child of the fossil fuel industry — which has not yet managed to bring any successful large scale CCS projects to fruition. President Eisgruber’s statement intentionally elides the actual objective of divestment, which is to stop carbon molecules being emitted into the atmosphere. A number of other things also do not take carbon molecules out of the atmosphere but do lower emissions — including solar arrays, geo-exchange bores, sustainable materials and techniques — but our president has no quarrel with them. Divestment works to lower carbon emissions in two ways: by removing the social capital of the fossil-fuel companies and by increasing their cost of financial capital such that they cannot afford to continue expanding fossil-fuel operations.
When shares are sold, it is true someone else does buy them. But as the perceived value of the fossil fuel companies declines (stranded assets, increasingly cheap renewables, litigation liability, a changing regulatory framework, lost government subsidies, divestment, etc.) those shares are worth less and less. Many formerly great American companies that refused to face the future know well the sounds of the supply and demand death rattle including Blockbuster, Sears, and Kodak.
We believe the president is right about one thing — the faculty is producing transformative research. Recently over 160 members of Princeton’s faculty and staff, including a number of climate scholars and experts, published an open letter urging Princeton to divest fully from fossil fuels this year. We hope someone is reading their work.