The Rockefellers have displayed the ultimate irony as they will divest from fossil fuels and invest in clean energy. On the heels of the People’s Climate March and a day in advance of the United Nations Climate Change Summit, 50 foundations joined together to announce their divestment from major coal, gas and oil companies. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund joined the coalition to divest from fossil fuels.
The immense Rockefeller fortune comes mainly from the oil industry. John D. Rockefeller became the poster boy for robber barons as he developed his Standard Oil Company into one of the most successful businesses of all time. His ruthless practices earned him the ire of many progressives and muckrakers such as investigative journalist Ida Tarbell. Her book,The History of the Standard Oil Company exposed the dangers of huge business and paved the way for government regulation. That did not stop John D. Rockefeller from becoming the richest American of all time with an inflation-adjusted net worth of $340 billion. However, in 1913 Rockefeller Foundation was founded to “promote the well being of humanity around the world.”
The Rockefeller Brothers Fund is the charitable branch of the Rockefeller organization and is worth nearly $1 billion. It has joined a coalition of philanthropic organizations pledging to rid themselves of investments in dirty energy. Although 50 foundations held a press conference on Monday, 180 institutions and 650 individuals have united to take approximately $50 billion out of the coal and oil industry. A global initiative called Global Divest-Invest was begun by university campuses a few years ago. Taking money out of the coal and oil industry will not have a huge immediate impact, but if enough companies get on board and divert funding to green energy it can make a difference.
The Rockefeller Brothers Fund has long supported environmental conservation. In 2013 the foundation contributed $6 million to sustainable development projects. The company has already eliminated its ties with coal and tar sands, two of the most destructive forms of energy. Burning coal releases more greenhouse gases than any other energy source and extracting oil from tar sands causes unnecessary environmental damage. Valerie Rockefeller Wayne, a great-great-granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller and a trustee of the fund states, “There is a moral imperative to preserve a healthy planet.” The Rockefellers have always been known for their strong convictions and dedication to philanthropy.
Steven Rockefeller, another trustee, said, “We see this as having both a moral and an economic dimension.” Organizations in favor of divestment do not want to be culpable in continuing anthropomorphic global warming and climate change. Also, they see the financial future in renewable energies and believe that clinging to fossil fuels will be financially harmful in the long run.
Some colleges and pension funds, most notably Harvard University, refuse to give in to pressure to divest. They feel that divestment is not an effective or sensible way to fight climate change as the oil industry does not rely on capital investments for its income and has economic resources so vast that divestment does not have a financial impact, but those in favor of divestment say the way institutions invest money changes the conversation about climate change. It raises awareness, stops contributing to the problem, and diverts money to clean, green energy. At some point, the health of the planet and its ability to support life has to become more important than monetary gain.
The Rockefellers have displayed the ultimate irony as they announced they are divesting from fossil fuels and investing in clean energy. A fortune built on oil will now try to separate itself from carbon based energies. The move will have little impact on the oil industry and it turns out that the Rockefeller Foundation has been making the environment a focus of its charity for years and already invests in sustainability, but the fact that the Rockefellers are making news by divesting proves that taking a stand can affect the discourse on climate change.
By: Rebecca Savastio