The Slatest

The Rockefeller Family Made Billions from Oil, Now They’re Divesting Over Climate Change

Oil rigs extract petroleum in California.

Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

In American history the Rockefeller family name is synonymous with wealth—and that wealth is defined by oil. John D. Rockefeller used the oil business to amass one of the greatest fortunes the world had ever seen. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil was so dominant at the end of the 19th century that when the Supreme Court ordered its break up, the smaller companies it was broken down into were heavyweights: Conoco, Amoco, Chevron, Exxon, and Mobil.

But times change, and on Monday, a new generation of heirs to the Rockefeller fortune announced they were taking steps to get out of the oil business in favor of cleaner, more environmentally friendly alternatives. The symbolic move involves the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, an $860 charitable trust built with oil money, that will no longer invest in fossil fuel companies and “is selling investments in coal and tar sands producers in a move to pressure companies that are contributing to climate change,” Bloomberg reports. “We are immediately divesting from coal and tar sands, the most carbon intensive fuels,” Stephen Heintz, president of the fund, said on Monday. “Given the source of the fortune, ‘it’s a very important signal to the market.’”

Here’s more on what the divestment means from Bloomberg:

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, [Heintz] said… 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. 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.

“The announcement, timed to precede Tuesday’s opening of the United Nations climate change summit meeting in New York City, is part of a broader and accelerating initiative,” according to the New York Times. “In all, the groups have pledged to divest assets worth more than $50 billion from portfolios, and the individuals more than $1 billion, according to Arabella Advisors, a firm that consults with philanthropists and investors to use their resources to achieve social goals.”