One of the charitable funds of the Rockefeller family has announced that it will withdraw all of its investments from companies based in fossil fuels. The Rockefeller family made their billions through oil investment.
The RFF (Rockefeller Family Fund) was created in 1967 by the descendants of John D Rockefeller. The organisation announced on Wednesday that it will be removing all of its investments in fossil fuels “as quickly as possible”.
RFF, which was formed by John, Laurance, Martha, David and Nelson Rockefeller, said that ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil company was “morally reprehensible”.
The wealthiest man in American history when he passed away in 1937, John D Rockefeller made his billion dollar fortune from ExxonMobil’s precursor Standard Oil.
The Rockefeller Family Fund, which has comparatively small holdings of just $130m, said in a public statement:
“There is no sane rationale for companies to continue to explore for new sources of hydrocarbons. 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.
“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.”
Speaking to CNBC, an ExxonMobil spokesman said:
“It’s not surprising that they’re divesting from the company since they’re already funding a conspiracy against us.”
However, the RFF vehemently denied any form of conspiracy against Exxon, saying that the comment was “a complete mischaracterisation of our program work”.
The charge of being morally reprehensible, which the RFF levelled at Exxon, was in reference to an investigation currently being carried out by the New York attorney general, Eric Scheiderman, into claims that Exxon deliberately lied to its shareholders and the public about the risks of climate change. The investigation began in November.
The investigation has now also been taken up by the attorney general in California. They are building much of the case based on allegations that reports from the 1980s and 90s show that Exxon’s company scientists filed warnings to the oil giant, which outlined the dangers of climate change. At the same time, however, Exxon was claiming to the public that climate science was unfounded.
When the investigation was launched, an Exxon spokesman said:
“We unequivocally reject the allegations that ExxonMobil has suppressed climate change research.”
The firm acknowledged that it had been subpoenaed by the New York attorney general, Eric Schneidermann, for access to emails, financial records and various climate change related files.
The legal sources went on to confirm that the world’s biggest private coal company, Peabody Energy, is also being investigated on similar grounds.
Exxon and Peabody, two of the biggest organisations in the industry of fossil fuels, have been continuously been criticised by science and environmental groups for financially backing climate change denial groups, and for perpetuating myths surrounding the topic.
Two of the contenders for the democratic presidential nominations, Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton, have both piled on the pressure for an investigation into Exxon. This pressure grew even higher when it was revealed that Exxon had known for decades about the risks that climate change presented to the planet, and yet went on spreading false information about the science.
The company has categorically denied any allegations of wrongdoing and said that it had always operated with transparency when it came to the topic of climate change.
The legal sources went on to say that the investigation itself would focus on any differences that it discovers between the knowledge that the firm had of climate change and its effects, and what it then reported to the government’s regulatory bodies such as the Securities Exchange Commission.
The source commented saying:
“The fundamental question is whether they were misleading the public and investors by having financial reports inconsistent with what they knew to be the science. It could include the funding of climate denial science. It could involve funding straight science that showed the impact of climate change.”
The investigation was first reported by the New York Times and came in the aftermath of separate investigations by the LA Times and Inside Climate News, which revealed that the company had systematically ignored the findings of its own scientists.
It is thought that much of the investigation will hinge around what is known as the Martin Act, which is a New York statute that may make it easier to reach a conviction than it would be through financial regulations.
The Guardian reported last year that scientists working for Exxon were knowledgeable about the dangers of climate change as far back as 1981. A subsequent investigation by Inside Climate News then pushed this time back into the 1970s. Greenpeace discovered that the firm had spent over $30m with the aim of trying to spread misinformation about climate change.
The Rockefeller Family Fund said that although they have previously made money from oil, “history moves on, as it must”. They continued:
“Needless to say, the Rockefeller family has had a long and profitable history investing in the oil industry, including ExxonMobil. These are not decisions, therefore, that have been taken lightly or without much consideration of their import.”
This latest divestment from the Rockefeller family, away from fossil fuels, is not the first in recent times. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) announced that it was divesting all of the $45bn it had in fossil fuel investments.
In spite of this, it is currently understood that the much richer Rockefeller Foundation, which has an endowment of around $4bn, remains opposed to divestment from fossil fuels.