Peak Hypocrisy: Rockefeller Fund Divests Fossil Fuels, Says Exxon Is "Morally Reprehensible"

The winner of today's "peak irony", or rather hypocrisy, award is easy: it goes to the Rockefeller Family Fund, a charity which exists only thanks to John D. Rockefeller's creation of the Standard Oil carbon-spewing behemoth (a predecessor to today's ExxonMobil) which over the past century has created billions in profits for the Rockefeller family and billions in tons of CO2 emissions, "proudly announcing" this morning that it intends to sell all fossil fuel exposure, and that it would "eliminate holdings" of ExxonMobil because the oil company associated with the family fortune has "worked since the 1980s to confuse the public about climate change."

The U.S.-based charity will also divest its coal and Canadian oil sands holdings.

This striking move is the result of the Fund's "green" metamorphosis. According to the charity, given the threat posed to the survival of human and natural ecosystems, "there is no sane rationale for companies to continue to explore for new sources of hydrocarbons."

Oh, now they tell us.

In response to the divestment movement, many oil industry leaders have argued that millions of people in the developing world would be condemned to darkness and poverty if society halted the burning of fossil fuels anytime in the next several decades, before there is an ample supply of cleaner energy sources. And considering the price of oil is so cheap currently that the research and development of so-called alternative, or clean sources of energy is completely uneconomical, it means that the kind, liberal folks over at the Rockefeller foundation would rather see Africa in the dark than suffer the immoral indignity of even a few more grams of CO2 emissions.

Today's move follows the launch last November by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of an investigation into whether Exxon misled the public and shareholders about the risks of climate change. At the time, the company said it has included information about the business risk of climate change for many years in its quarterly filings, corporate citizenship report and in other reports to shareholders.

Exxon Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson has openly talked about the reality of climate change. The company has said it has constructively contributed to climate research for years.

As early as 2008, members of the Rockefeller family called on Exxon to make governance changes and increase spending on alternative fuels. And then, in late 2014, another fund associated with the family, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), and several other philanthropies and non-governmental organizations said they would divest from fossil fuel-related investments.

Here is the best part: this whole "divestment" is nothing more than theater. This specific endowment runs a tiny $130 million in total assets. As for Exxon, its shares were down 0.4% on the day, less than the drop of the broader market.

So here is the real question: will the Rockefellers divest of their full energy holdings, kept in blind, family, and various other (offshore of course - nobody wants to pay taxes, not even green liberals) unknown trusts, due to their disgust with the "morally reprehensible" company created by their ancestor?  The answer: of course not.

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Here is the full Rockefeller Family Fund statement:

The Rockefeller Family Fund is proud to announce its intent to divest from fossil fuels. The process will be completed as quickly as possible, as we work around the complications of modern finance, which is increasingly dominated by alternative investments and hedge funds.

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.

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.

To operationalize this decision, the Board has instructed its advisors, effective immediately, to eliminate holdings of ExxonMobil, and all coal, and tar sands-based companies outside the portions of the portfolio managed by third parties, and to keep exposures for these three categories of investment below 1 percent across the entire portfolio. The Family Fund’s Finance Committee will soon be entering the second phase of its divestment work, which will entail seeking suitable alternatives to certain commingled funds now held. The field of Socially Responsible Investing is dynamic and growing and we are confident that a variety of options will soon emerge for mid-sized endowments such as ours.

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. But history moves on, as it must. Indeed, it is past time for all people of good will to do everything in their collective power to make our new path one that recognizes the deep interdependence between humanity’s future and the health of our natural systems.

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