We stand at a crossroads. The difference between the two paths that we could take is stark, to say the least. There is no question in my mind that we will have to make difficult choices. Nevertheless, I am confident that, at the end of the day, the University will do what is right and live by its guiding creed: “In The Service of the Nation and In the Service of All Nations.”

One path, it should be noted, would be not divesting from what Go Fossil Free, a campaign spearheaded by 350.org with support from a number of other environmental groups, identifies as the top 200 worst publicly traded fossil-fuel companies. Doing so would give considerable social license to these terrifying dinosaurs that are as obsolete as the fossils from which they profit in such horrifying ways.[1]

Whatever good these businesses do is far outweighed by the damage they inflict on people and the planet. I do not dispute the fact that, as Will Schleier pointed out earlier in The Daily Princetonian both ExxonMobil and BP have put some money into the development of biofuels and ethanol, respectively. [2]

Nonetheless, this is chump change in comparison to the trouble these companies bring to all corners of the globe. According to a New York Times analysis, in the months leading up to the 2012 Presidential Election, the fossil fuel industry as a whole spent a shocking $153 million.[3] Oil and gas executives, for instance, paid $50,000 to wine and dine Mitt Romney, a privilege, in which, needless to say, few middle class Americans were able to indulge.[4]

Let us also not forget that BP, by its own conservative reckoning, inflicted $40 billion of damages in 2010 as a result of the Gulf Oil Spill.[5] And even before doing so, it had the distinct pleasure of thoroughly corrupting the Mines and Mineral Management Service (MMS), the government agency tasked with regulating it. As one journalist put it, “MMS staffers were both literally and figuratively in bed with the oil industry” while “it was American taxpayers and the environment that were getting screwed.”[6] Perhaps this is why one Louisiana shrimp processor explained back in 2010, “It’s very difficult for us.”[7]

And this is only in America: here the rule of these companies is far less explicit than it is in other places. In the 1970s, for instance, ExxonMobil had no qualms about backing up an Indonesian regime that used company property to routinely torture and murder political prisoners, long after the American government withdrew support once it learned of such atrocities.[8]

Luckily, we have the power to distance ourselves from these firms and move society as a whole to a more just and sustainable future. Divestment stands out as the right approach. That is not to say it is a panacea: for that matter, nothing is. Divestment is attractive primarily because of the symbolic weight it carries.

In the near future, the fossil fuel industry will be fine. As soon as the University divests from these firms, people with less pressing ethical concerns will buy the stock. It follows that for at least some time stock prices won’t take a hit and thus no jobs will be lost.[9]

But in the long run, the fate of these companies will be sealed. When considering the action taken by Princeton and countless other institutions across the nation, policymakers and markets will realize that fossil fuels are neither politically nor economically viable. That is to say, the companies that control in the words of one writer “five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn,” will become nothing more than moral pariahs. It should be noted that this is not some crazy idea. The Harvard Political Review came to the conclusion that, “Divestment from select fossil fuel producers would send a powerful message to the energy industry and the nation.”[10] In other words, divestment works.

And in freeing the nation from its terrible fossil fuel addiction, it would bring great prosperity to all. It may certainly be the case, as Will Schleier alleged, that the oil and gas industry has produced a fair number of jobs in the last decade. Nevertheless, a recent nonpartisan study found that in the words of the Los Angeles Times “green jobs grow four times faster than others.”[11] Put differently, if we care about creating jobs, we should put our money where our mouth is.

But the world would have more than just jobs: no longer would hardworking people have to suffer unnecessarily. Remember that those who already had so little lost so much to Hurricane Katrina, a true climate catastrophe.[12] Beyond that, the nation’s farmers and ranchers continue to see their crops and livestock wither and die in one of the worst droughts in our time.[13] But if is too much for Princeton students to think of the misery of others, we need only keep in mind the immense havoc that Hurricane Sandy wreaked in the Northeast. To be blunt, time is running out.

Given that this is the case, it is imperative that the University chooses the right path and divests immediately. Let’s not the take the road less traveled.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/01/27/is-divestment-an-effective-means-of-protest/turning-colleges-partners-into-pariahs

[2] http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2013/03/09/33031/

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/14/us/politics/fossil-fuel-industry-opens-wallet-to-defeat-obama.html?pagewanted=all

[4] [4] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/14/us/politics/fossil-fuel-industry-opens-wallet-to-defeat-obama.html?pagewanted=all

[5] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/02/bp-oil-spill-costs-hit-40_n_777521.html


[6] http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-spill-the-scandal-and-the-president-20100608?print=true

[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/02/bp-oil-spill-costs-hit-40_n_777521.html

[8] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/10/books/review/private-empire-steve-colls-book-about-exxon-mobil.html?pagewanted=all


[9] http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/01/27/is-divestment-an-effective-means-of-protest/turning-colleges-partners-into-pariahs

[10] http://www.iop.harvard.edu/does-divestment-work

[11] http://www.latimes.com/business/money/la-fi-mo-green-jobs-20130319,0,2962980.story

[12] http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=658

[13] http://www.npr.org/2012/08/14/158762418/is-drought-slowly-killing-us-farms