In a symbol of the times, America’s biggest “oil family”, the Rockefellers, has announced it will get rid of any investments or holdings in fossil fuels from its $860 million charitable fund, and target clean energy instead.

The announcement is part of a $50 billion pledge by over 180 institutions to cut oil, natural gas, and coal from their portfolios and redirect investment into clean energy.

“Our immediate focus will be on coal and tar sands, two of the most intensive sources of carbon emissions,” the statement said, adding that investment in the two sectors will be reduced to less than 1 percent of the total portfolio by the end of 2014.

Coal and tar sands are two of the biggest carbon emitters.

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund was established in 1940 from wealth acquired through the family’s company Standard Oil, once the world’s largest oil refiner.

Monday’s announcement comes ahead of today’s United Nations summit on climate change, where 120 global leaders, including US President Barack Obama, have gathered to discuss how to combat carbon emissions and global warming.

ExxonMobil, Conoco, and Chevron are the modern day successors of the original Standard Oil, which was such a big oil company the US Supreme Court said it violated antitrust laws, and it was broken up in 1911.

“John D Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil, moved America out of whale oil and into petroleum,” Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, said, saying that if John D. Rockefeller were alive today, he would invest in clean, renewable energy.

About 7 percent of the fund is currently invested in dirty fossil fuels.

In 2013, the Rockefeller charity gave over $6 million in grants to sustainable development projects.

Many American universities have also cut their ties with ‘Big Oil’, most prominently Stanford and Harvard, which both have multi-billion dollar endowments. The University of California school system says it won’t divest from fossil fuels, an unpopular choice amongst students.

A nice gesture

The switch won’t be immediate or apply to the full $860 million in charitable funds. The “divestment” will only apply to 10 percent of the endowment, an approved commitment from the fund’s board of trustees in line with the organization’s sustainable development goals.

“There may continue to be minimal investments in our portfolio in those energy sectors,” the statement said, clarifying it will be a “two-step” process.

The divestment program will be conducted with the overall organization’s finances in mind; that is they won’t divest if such a move will negatively alter the charity’s day-to-day operations.


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