Recent news that Exxon Mobil will invest nearly $5 billion to reduce carbon dioxide in the environment illustrates the manifest silliness of the trustees’ decision to dissociate from the company (On the Campus, November 2022). Exxon is buying Denbury, a pipeline operator that moves CO2 from smokestacks to underground reservoirs. To put that investment in context, it comes to nearly 14 percent of the value of Princeton’s endowment. Altogether, Exxon says it will spend $7 billion on low carbon businesses by 2027 and $10 billion to curb its own emissions.
Critics will doubtless berate the company’s actions as “greenwashing.” Professors of Economics 101 might remind them that market-driven corporations respond to signals from consumers (who need gasoline) and governments (which subsidize public goods like carbon capture). They do not respond to virtue signaling by university trustees. Will the trustees now remove Exxon from its naughty list? And how much of Princeton’s resources, financial and intellectual, are being frittered away in the pointless search for culprits thought to warrant dissociation?