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The Next Economy
Rockefeller Family, Who Built Fortune on Fossil Fuels, Dumping Oil Stocks — Starting with Exxon

The latest generation of descendants of oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller have denounced the industry upon which he built their fortune.

The Rockefeller Family Fund (RFF) announced this week it has sold its holdings in Exxon Mobil and plans to dump all of its other fossil-fuel investments “as quickly as possible.” Foundation director Lee Wasserman told Bloomberg that fossil-fuel investments comprise roughly 6 percent of the RFF’s $130 million in holdings.

A statement on the RFF website explains its decision to divest:

“The Rockefeller Family Fund is proud to announce its intent to divest from fossil fuels. … While the global community works to eliminate the use of fossil fuels, it makes little sense — financially or ethically — to continue holding investments in these companies. There is no sane rationale for companies to continue to explore for new sources of hydrocarbons. The science and intent enunciated by the Paris agreement cannot be more clear: Far from finding additional sources of fossil fuels, we must keep most of the already discovered reserves in the ground if there is any hope for human and natural ecosystems to survive and thrive in the decades ahead.”

The Rockefeller Foundation was founded in 1913 by oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller; his principal oil and gas business and philanthropic advisor, Frederick Taylor Gates; and his son, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., with the mission of "promoting the well-being of humanity throughout the world." While the inherent irreconcilability between the Foundation’s origins and its mission wouldn’t become clear until long after the senior Rockefeller’s death, the latter generations are now in a position to eliminate the disconnect and truly apply their family’s fortune to “building greater resilience and more inclusive communities” (the Foundation’s tagline).

In this week’s divestment announcement, the RFF specifically calls out ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil explorer by market value:

“We would be remiss if we failed to focus on what we believe to be the morally reprehensible conduct on the part of ExxonMobil. Evidence appears to suggest that the company worked since the 1980s to confuse the public about climate change’s march, while simultaneously spending millions to fortify its own infrastructure against climate change’s destructive consequences and track new exploration opportunities as the Arctic’s ice receded. Appropriate authorities will determine if the company violated any laws, but as a matter of good governance, we cannot be associated with a company exhibiting such apparent contempt for the public interest.”

“It’s not surprising that they’re divesting from the company since they’re already funding a conspiracy against us,” Exxon spokesperson Alan Jeffers told Bloomberg on Wednesday.

Investors have been urging fossil fuel giants in recent years to acknowledge the impacts and business risks related to climate change — and their role in accelerating it — and embrace a transition to a clean energy economy. While last month ExxonMobil announced a new partnership with REG Life Sciences to study biodiesel production from cellulosic sugars, it did so while blocking a resolution from a group of faith-based shareholders concerned about the business and societal risks of climate change, which called on ExxonMobil’s Board to adopt the 2°C target accepted by 187 of 195 nations at COP21 in December. Despite Exxon's attempts to block the resolutions, the SEC ruled Wednesday that they must appear on the annual proxy statement, forcing a vote by shareholders at the annual meeting on May 25th.