Rockefeller Fund Built on Oil to Abandon Fossil Fuels

Sept. 22 (Bloomberg) — The Rockefeller Brothers Fund,
built with profits from Standard Oil Co., is selling investments
in coal and tar sands producers in a move to pressure companies
that are contributing to climate change.

The fund, founded in 1940 and based in New York City, today
joined a group of 800 institutions and individuals announcing
they will divest from fossil-fuel companies. Total funds making
that pledge reached $50 billion this week, and advocates today
vowed to triple the total by next December.

“We are immediately divesting from coal and tar sands, the
most carbon intensive fuels,” Stephen Heintz, president of the
Rockefeller Brothers Fund, said today. Given the source of the
fortune, “it’s a very important signal to the market.”

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which has assets of $860
million and is separate from the larger Rockefeller Foundation,
will now assess how to cut other fossil fuel investments while
boosting renewable energy companies, he said.

Students and activist investors are backing the divestment
effort spearheaded by the environmental group 350.org to
persuade foundations, corporations, universities and others to
divest from the 200 companies with the largest share of coal and
oil resources, including Exxon Mobil Corp. and India Coal Ltd.
Former Vice President Al Gore is scheduled to present the latest
divestment totals to world leaders at the United Nations Climate
Summit tomorrow.

Manhattan Marchers

Activists said the turnout of 310,000 people to march in
Manhattan yesterday, along with the latest surge in divestment,
showed producers of non-renewable fuels are starting to lose
ground with investors and the public.

“Yesterday marked the beginning of the end of the
hydrocarbon age,” Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, said
today. “The fact that the first great fossil-fuel fortune is
now out of the business of burning things that come out of the
ground is a seminal moment.”

Heintz said John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard
Oil more than a century ago, was developing cutting edge fuels
when he began investing in oil production at the end of the 19th
century to displace whale oil.

“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,” Heintz said.

Retaining Exxon

The Rockefeller family fund will keep shares of Exxon, the
main successor to Standard Oil after the government-ordered
breakup, in part to press the oil and gas producer to account
for its carbon assets, he said.

South African cleric Desmond Tutu, who helped spur calls
for divestment that led to the end of apartheid in his home
nation in the 1980s, today endorsed the divestment drive.

“Climate change has become the the human rights challenge
of our time,” Tutu told advocates via video message today. “We
can no longer continue feeding our addiction to fossil fuels as
if there is no tomorrow, for there will be no tomorrow.”

Asked about Exxon being targeted by the divestment effort,
a company spokesman referred to a report released this year.

“Energy use and mix evolve slowly due to the vast size of
the global energy system,” the Exxon report said. “We believe
the transition to lower carbon energy sources will also take
time, despite rapid growth rates for such sources.”

Nagendra Kumar, Coal India’s technical director, said, “We
are fully conscious of our responsibility towards the
environment and taking every possible step to help the cause of
environment.”

In addition to the large institutions, 650 individuals also
signed on to a pledge to avoid fossil-fuel producers. It’s the
first time individuals made this public pledge.

“No investors’ fortunes are too small for the change
necessary for the future of the economy,” said actor Mark
Ruffalo, who signed up today. “Leadership is unwilling to do
what we want them to do, and so we have to go around them.”

To contact the reporter on this story:
Mark Drajem in Washington at
mdrajem@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Jon Morgan at
jmorgan97@bloomberg.net;
Steve Geimann at
sgeimann@bloomberg.net
Steve Geimann

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