The Rockefeller brothers made their family’s fortune through their oil refinery company, Standard Oil. Now the family is joining a growing movement to divest from fossil fuels. Today the $860 million Rockefeller Brothers Fund will announce that it, along with 49 other foundations, is divesting from oil, gas, coal and tar sands. The stunning announcement coincides with tomorrow’s United Nations Climate Change Summit, and aims to send a message that industry and financial leaders think the time has come to end our dependence on Big Oil.
The Rockefeller Brothers Fund already invests in alternative energy sources. In 2013, the fund also awarded over $6 million in grants to sustainable development initiatives. Today’s announcement is part of the fund’s efforts “to better align its endowed assets with its mission.” In a statement the fund announced: “The Fund has begun a two-step process to divest from investments in fossil fuels, first focusing on limiting its exposure to coal and tar sands, with a goal to reduce these investments to less than one percent of the total portfolio by the end of 2014. The Fund is also analyzing in detail its remaining fossil fuel exposure and will develop a plan for further divestment as quickly as is prudent over the next few years.” As fund trustee Steven Rockefeller told the New York Times, “We are moving soberly, but with real commitment.”
The fund, like many others, sees not only an ethical reason for the divestment, but a pragmatically financial one as well. Steven Rockefeller believes that companies that have stockpiled fossil fuel reserves will find themselves in difficulty in the future when the cost of getting rid of that carbon load becomes prohibitively expensive. Rockefeller stated, “We see this as having both a moral and an economic dimension.” Investors are likening the action to the investor activism against apartheid in the 1980s and Big Tobacco in the 1990s. While they don’t anticipate causing a great deal of financial damage through their individual actions, the message that divestment sends is very powerful.
According to Arabella Advisors, “As of September 19, 2014, 181 institutions and local governments and 656 individuals representing over $50 billion in assets have pledged to divest from fossil fuels.” This figure was just 74 investors in January, 2014, so the divestment movement has really gained traction this year. Chair of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund Valerie Rockefeller Wayne, who marched in New York along with her three children on Sunday, also told the Washington Post that if her family patriarchs were still alive, they would be “investing in alternative energy sources and renewables right now.” With the clout of big name investors added to the sound of hundreds of thousands of feet on the ground in Sunday’s climate change marches, there is plenty of pressure on world leaders to take action on climate change over the next few days.