Climate Activists Have Their Say; Rockefeller Fund Adds Its Voice

In the wake of marchers in cities around the world protesting climate change — including a crowd estimated to be more than 300,000 in New York City where the U.N. Climate Summit 2014 opens tomorrow — the Rockefeller family is making headlines with a plan to divest the shares of companies tied to fossil fuels from its $860 million Rockefeller Brothers Fund

The Rockefellers are joining “around 180 other institutions, including religious organizations and pension funds, which have pledged to divest any assets tied to fossil fuels in lieu of cleaner and more-sustainable alternatives,” reportsTime’s Rishi Iyengar. Add in 654 wealthy individuals and those pledging to divest represent $50 billion in assets as of Sept. 19, according to Arabella Advisors, which “helps philanthropists and investors achieve greater good with their resources.” 



“The people who are selling shares of energy stocks are well aware that their actions are unlikely to have an immediate impact on the companies, given their enormous market capitalizations and cash flow,” writes John Schwartz in the New York Times, who had the inside story about the Rockefeller Brothers Fund announcement in advance of the press conference today.

“Even so, some say they are taking action to align their assets with their environmental principles,” Schwartz continues. “Others want to shame companies that they believe are recklessly contributing to a warming planet. Still others say that the fight to limit climate change will lead to new regulations and disruptive new technologies that will make these companies an increasingly risky investment.”

The Rockefeller family patriarch, John D., was a co-founder of Standard Oil and America’s first billionaire — “The Ultimate Oil Man,” according the headline on one online biography. 

His heir, Stephen Heintz, “said the move to divest away from fossil fuels would be in line with his wishes,” reports Reuters’ Valerie Volcovici. “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,” Heintz said in a statement.

Rockefeller’s son, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., was one of the first tycoons to effectively use public relations. He hired former New York World reporter Ivy Lee to “burnish the family image” following the Ludlow Massacre during the Colorado Coal Strike of 1913-14. 

Although he preferred the term “publicity,” according to one account, Lee “espoused a philosophy consistent with what has sometimes been called the ‘two-way street’ approach to public relations — in which PR consists of helping clients listen as well as communicate messages to their publics,” according to his Wikipedia entry. 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu will make a videotaped announcement today that “hundreds of wealthy individuals and at least 50 foundations will pledge to divest any holdings in the world's top 200 oil and gas producers, including ExxonMobil, BP and Chevron,” reports Wendy Koch in USA Today.

“We can boycott events, sports teams and media programming sponsored by fossil fuel companies; demand that their advertisements carry health warnings; organize car-free days and other platforms to build broader societal awareness; and ask our religious communities to speak out on the issue from their various pulpits,” Tutu writes in a Guardian commentary calling for activists to use the same tactics that were successful in eliminating apartheid in South Africa. 

“We can encourage energy companies to spend more of their resources on the development of sustainable energy products, and we can reward those companies that demonstrably do so by using their products to the exclusion of others,” Tutu writes.

Also at the press conference today, “six of the world's largest oil and gas companies will commit, via a new partnership with the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, to take steps to reduce methane leaks in fossil fuel production,” Koch writes.

“This is an enormous opportunity” for the industry, Nathaniel Keohane of the Environmental Defense Fund tells Koch, pointing out that methane emissions account for 25% of global warming.

“The moves illustrate a potentially important shift in the position that many business interests have taken regarding climate change,” observes Neela Banerjee in the Los Angeles Times. “Even while the subject remains controversial among political figures, with many Republican officials in the U.S. disputing the existence of man-made climate change, growing numbers of investors and corporations are trying to curtail fossil-fuel consumption and prepare for global warming’s damage.”

A live stream of events during Climate Week NYC, the “collaborative space for all events in support of the UN Climate Summit,” is available here. You can follow live tweets on @ClimateGroup and join the discussion on all social media using #CWNYC.

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