By September 22, 2014, 180+ municipalities, educational institutions and philanthropic organizations, including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, joined a global movement to at least partially divest themselves from fossil fuels and from approximately 200 oil and gas companies while focusing on clean alternatives. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s divestment is the most eye-catching, as the Rockefeller patriarchs cofounded Standard Oil Company and made huge fortunes from fossil fuels. It should be noted, however, that the Rockefeller Brothers Fund is distinct from the larger, better known Rockefeller Foundation.
Citing both economic and environmental concerns, notables including Stanford, The Educational Foundation of America, the Joseph Roundtree Charitable Trust, the Merck Family Fund, and the Wallace Global Fund, have joined the movement and include 70+ charitable organizations controlling $4.2+ Billion in assets. Financially, they argue that as climate change intensifies, government regulations will increasingly restrict and perhaps even legally ban extraction of fossil fuels from the earth, effectively “stranding” the resources and rendering them useless. Furthermore, Ellen Dorsey, the executive director of the Wallace Global Fund, stated of divestment, “It’s not difficult, and it’s beneficial. We’re not losing our shirts—and are actually doing quite well in the market.” Consequently, the search for clean alternatives to fossil fuels is financially logical. Environmentally, the participants argue that the preference for clean alternatives over fossil fuels is well established.
The movement has attracted criticism, of course, chiefly from executives of the “abandoned” oil and gas companies. For example, a Shell executive argued in a May 2014 20-page letter to investors that the growing energy demands of India and China will necessitate fossil fuels’ continuation as a major source of power and that there is no legislation now or in the foreseeable future that will somehow “strand” Shell’s underground fossil fuel reserves.
Despite opposition from fossil fuel supporters, the global Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement is clearly gathering momentum and clout. Started by environmental activists in the 1980’s, the movement languished until foundations such as the Wallace Global Fund tried divestment, deemed it “smart business” and environmentally sound, and told other major organizations about its experience. According to a September 2014 report by Arabella Advisors, the Movement has gained “remarkable speed.”
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