Oil heir Rockefellers divest charity from fossil fuels

As hundreds of thousands march for climate action, interesting things are afoot in the energy sector. The latest headline, reported on by the New York Times, and raising eyebrows and headlines around the world:

The Rockefellers, heirs to an oil fortune, are divesting their charity from fossil fuels.

Granted, this announcement is currently talking only about the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, Standard Oil's charity arm. The family is not pulling all of their money out of fossil fuel, at least not yet.

But this is still very big news indeed.

AK Rockefeller/Public Domain

Firstly, the symbolic significance of a family that built its immense fortune on oil, and a company that trades in oil, publicly aligning itself with the divestment movement should not be understated. The divestment movement—at least in these early stages—is all about symbolism and strategic stigmatization.

But there is more to it than that.

We're also beginning to talk about a significant sum of money when it comes to fossil fuel divestment. The Times reports that the $860 million charity is adding its efforts to divestment pledges from other institutions and individuals that already total over $50 billion. True, $50 billion is a drop in the ocean of energy financing. But it's a drop that is growing fast. And, as I have argued before, these moves are beginning to be driven by more than just politics and moral/ethical concerns.

From China showing signs of breaking its oil addiction to some large-scale solar and wind becoming cost competitive with fossil fuels (without subsidies!), there are sound economic reasons why investors are starting worrying about a carbon bubble.

Steven A. Rockefeller, a son of Nelson A. Rockefeller, underlined this point when talking to The Times:

"We see this as having both a moral and economic dimension."

I couldn't agree more. And doubtless there will be those that cry hypocrisy and greenwash, but I would beg them to reconsider. We need an urgent transition away from fossil fuels. When parts of the fossil fuel industries themselves start to acknowledge that—and even take the initial steps to make it happen—we should applaud them, and then call for more of the same.

Tags: Activism | Coal | Corporate Responsibility | Economics | Oil

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