Rockefeller Brothers Fund divesting from coal and tar sands, but not from natural gas

It’s indeed historic when heirs of John D. Rockefeller, the man whose Standard Oil more than any other company put the world on its current fossil-fuel-burning climate-changing path decide to divest from coal and tar sands. But read their actual statement: they’re not divesting from natural gas, or fracking, or even from oil. Yet.

Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) PR 22 September 2014 Fund Announces Plans to Divest from Fossil Fuels,

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund has been working to better align its endowed assets with its mission since 2010, when the board of trustees approved a commitment of up to 10 percent of the endowment to investments consistent with the foundation’s Sustainable Development program goals. Stephen Heintz, president of the Fund, announced its decision to divest from fossil fuels at a press conference in New York City on September 22, 2014, one day before world leaders convene at the UN Climate Summit. 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.

There’s nothing about this continued investment in fracked methane in the New York Times story or in any of the others I’ve found. But RBF’s own PR is pretty clear.

That PR and a longer statement refer us to The foundation’s Sustainable Development program goals.

Also be aware that this is the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), not the Rockefeller Foundation (RF). I initially missed that distinction and called RF, who actually called me back within hours, but declined to say whether RF was also divesting from anything.

So, divestment by any Rockefellers from any fossil fuels is a good start, and indeed a historic day for the divestment movement. But there are many more steps to go. RBF’s longer statement does say:

As we take the steps to divest from coal and tar sands investments, we are also undertaking a comprehensive analysis of our exposure to any remaining fossil fuel investments and will work with the RBF Investment Committee and board of trustees to determine an appropriate strategy for further divestment over the next few years.

But they haven’t divested from natural gas or fracking or LNG exports yet. Do they actually have any investments in those areas? Hard to tell. They’re a private charitable foundation, so they don’t have to say.

There’s also no evidence that they consider natural gas to be a clean energy source. That longer statement says:

The Fund’s initial priorities for investments from this 10 percent pool are focused on support for clean energy technologies and other business strategies that advance energy efficiency, decrease dependence on fossil fuels, and mitigate the effects of climate change.

That sentence doesn’t rule out such an interpretation, but it does link clean energy with “decrease dependence on fossil fuels”.

RBF also refers us to “the press release on Divest-Invest Philanthropy’s website”, which leads to a two-page PDF of 22 September 2014, Fossil Fuel Divestment Hits $50 Billion Mark: Global Divest/Invest Coalition Announces Hundreds of New Members including Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Mark Ruffalo, Norman and Lyn Lear, World Council of Churches, NRDC and More,

SEPTEMBER 22, NEW YORK CITY — The growing movement to divest from the fossil fuels causing climate change and invest instead in clean, sustainable energy reached an historic milestone today: $50B.

Over 800 global investors have now committed to divest their holdings in fossil fuels. New signatories encompass a broad diversity of sectors and regions— including foundations, individuals, faith groups, health care organizations, cities and universities around the world. Their pledge was revealed at a news conference in New York today, and will be presented tomorrow at the United Nations Climate Summit where over 120 world leaders will gather.

A leading advocate of the movement, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, called on institutions and people of conscience to divest in a video recorded for the announcement: “Climate change is the human rights challenge of our time. We can no longer continue feeding our addiction to fossil fuels as if there is no tomorrow, for there will be no tomorrow.” He called for a freeze on all new fossil fuel exploration as the companies cannot safely burn 75% of known reserves.

The fossil free Divest-Invest movement has grown explosively since its launch three years ago. Today’s announcement includes over 650 individuals and 180 institutions, including 50 new foundations added to the 17 who pledged in January. Together these institutions hold over $50 billion in total assets. Signers pledge to divest from fossil fuels over five years, taking a variety of approaches.

There’s more in that PR, and while it leave room for “a variety of approaches”, it’s pretty clear Divest-Invest wants divestment from all fossil fuels.

“John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil, moved America out of whale oil and into petroleum,” explained Stephen Heintz, President of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.“We are quite convinced that if he were alive today, as an astute businessman looking out to the future, he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy.”

And the president of RBF once again linked moving out of fossil fuels with “clean, renewable energy”. Sure, there’s still some wiggle room, but it’s also surely not a statement in support of methane.

It doesn’t take a Rockefeller to see that solar is where the money is, for example with SolarCity investing $5 billion in manufacturing in Buffalo.

Investors who don’t get on with getting out of fossil fuels and into solar and wind and wave power are pretty soon going to look like the bunch of abandoned whaling ships you see here in San Francisco harbor.

Time to abandon the whaling ships and aim for the sun.


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