This article was originally published in the student-run Daily Princetonian.
Change is tough. Sociologist Max Weber famously remarked that “politics is the strong and slow boring of hard boards.” Progress, in other words, does not come easily: One must fight tooth and nail.
Sometimes, however, change does come. Consider what happened in the 1980s, when 55 colleges and universities either fully or partially divested from South Africa, which suffered under a cruel apartheid regime. Of this campaign, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a renowned opponent of apartheid, said the following in a New York Times op-ed: “There is no greater testament to the basic dignity of ordinary people everywhere than the divestment movement of the 1980s.” In other words, divestment in no small way contributed to the downfall of the horrific apartheid regime.
Though much has changed since then, we unfortunately find ourselves once again embroiled in a fight against a terrible regime. We did not choose this fight: the times demanded it. We saw what havoc Hurricane Sandy wreaked on the Northeast and what hell the wildfires and drought that raged across the nation raised this summer. This does not include the destruction that climate change is causing all over the world. It should come as no surprise then, by the reckoning of economist Sir David Stern, inaction on climate change will cost us 5 percent of global GDP each year, “now and forever.”
The situation becomes undoubtedly more troubling in light of the fact that fossil-fuel companies—which, according to one writer, hold “five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn”—continue to lobby against action on climate change. This is why these firms, with their iron grip on Washington D.C. and capitals around the world, deserve to be a called a regime—and a frightening one at that. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, ExxonMobil, which journalist Steve Coll rightly calls “a private empire,” spent close to $3 million on political activities in 2012 alone. That is to say, there’s a reason why action on climate change has been blocked time and time again.
At this point, you might be wondering how you, as a Princeton student, alum, faculty member, staff or parent, are connected to the terrifying beast that is the fossil-fuel industry. The answer is simple: through the endowment. I am well aware of the fact that the endowment is a touchy subject. Mere discussion of it brings up all sorts of unpleasant conversations of power and inequality.
Continue reading this post at The Daily Princetonian.