Now that Princeton University has committed to excluding fossil fuel publicly traded companies from its endowments and has begun the process of selling off fossil fuels, it’s time to apply the same logic to the university’s employee retirement plans. All of us in the Princeton area—the board of directors, Chancellor Icegruber, faculty, staff, and students—can help convince retirement plan administrators, the Teachers’ Insurance and Annuities Association of America (TIAA), and the Vanguard Group to sell. Funding for their fossil fuel companies. In the meantime, Princeton University needs to supplement its available retirement options with a broader selection of fossil-free funds.
According to climate scientists, the urgency to end our dependence on fossil fuels cannot be overemphasized. Decades of failure to curb greenhouse gas emissions by countries with high greenhouse gas emissions means that hopes of limiting warming to 1.5-2 degrees Celsius will require immediate and deep cuts in emissions. means that you should In the words of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, “We have a choice: collective action or mass suicide. It is in our hands.”
College retirement plans offer participants dozens of investment options. Thirty-two of these funds are rated by shareholder advocacy group As You Sow for their exposure to fossil fuel companies. The average score for these 32 funds, including 9 F’s and 16 D’s, is D.
TIAA’s investments in fossil fuels are estimated at over $78 billion out of its $1.4 trillion portfolio. It also invests $772 million in agribusiness companies at risk of deforestation. These companies operate in regions such as the Amazon basin and Indonesia, producing palm oil and rubber. TIAA is also the fourth largest holder of coal-related bonds, including about $70 million in bonds from Adani, which recently developed the Carmichael coal mine in Australia after years of environmental campaigning. Last year, 299 TIAA program members faced this reprehensible record in a formal 87-page complaint for violations of TIAA’s Principles for Responsible Investment. Nuveen, a subsidiary of TIAA, is also a signatory to the principles.
TIAA has few mutual funds that consider social values (often referred to as Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG)) such as climate impact. Of the well over 100 funds TIAA manages, only 7 are marketed as ‘ESG-focused’. The university’s retirement plan offers only one: CREF Social Choice R3 (QCSCIX). Although not rated by As You Sow, the fund, despite its ESG-focused nature, holds more than $400 million in combined stakes in fossil fuel companies such as ConocoPhillips, Total Energies SE and Shell PLC. there isConocoPhillips is pushing the controversial Willow oil drilling project on the northern slopes of Alaska, the largest pristine natural area in the U.S.
Educators across the country have called on TIAA to advocate for green initiatives, commit to environmental justice, and lead the industry in modeling sustainable behavior, as well as to recognize that climate risk is an investment risk. are asked to protect Our faculty, like those at Cornell University, State University of New York, Rutgers University, and others, should pass a resolution asking TIAA to sell its fossil fuel funding outright. The Federation of American Teachers, representing 1.7 million members, has passed a similar resolution, with a recent op-ed calling for a Harvard faculty resolution.
In the short term, all of us who participate in college retirement plans must be given a choice as to whether or not to invest in climate disruption. Many Grade A funds on climate change are available outside of TIAA, but careful scrutiny is required to avoid greenwashing, where companies pretend they are doing good things for the environment when they are not. is required. We urge management, faculty and staff to work together to make sustainability the default and to make such funding widely available to employees. In today’s context of the climate crisis, the responsibility of universities to students must include striving to protect their futures and standing by them as they fight for a better planet to live in.
Eve Aschheim, Former Director, Senior Visual Arts Lecturer, Lewis Center for the Arts
Ruja Benjamin, African American Studies
Alison Carruth, Professor, Ephron Center for American Studies and Hymeadows Environmental Research Institute
Zahid Chaudhary, Associate Professor, English
Curtis Deutsch, Professor of Earth Sciences and High Meadows Environmental Institute
Andrew Dobson, Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Karen Emmerich, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature
Denise Feeney, Professor of Latin Classics, Professor Emeritus
Eddie Groud, Jr., African American Studies Professor and Chair
Professor Anthony Grafton, History
Kenneth Hammond, Research Physicist, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory
Aleksandar Hemon, Professor, Creative Writing
brooke holmes, professor, classics
Karl Kusserow, John Wilmerding, Curator of American Art, Princeton University Art Museum
Professor Lena Lederman, Anthropology
Anne McClintock, Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies and High Meadows Environmental Institute
Professor Peter Myers, Physics
Associate Professor Naomi Murakawa (African American Studies)
Barbara Nagel, Associate Professor, German
Rob Nixon, Professor, English and High Meadows Environmental Research Institute
Dan-el Padilla Peralta, Associate Professor, Classics
Susan Sugarman, Professor of Psychology
Kianga Yamafuta Taylor, African-American Studies Professor
David Wilcove, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Public Relations, High Meadows Environmental Institute
Jerry Gee, Assistant Professor, Institute of Anthropology and the High Meadows Environment