The Rockefeller family must have sore shoulders by now, with all the patting they are getting. The family, whose famous wealth stems from Standard Oil, announced that it will “divest” the Rockefeller Brother Fund, which has assets of almost a billion dollars, of investments in the fossil fuel industry. The announcement was timed to coincide with the fatuous People’s Climate March and the doomed UN General Assembly meeting on climate change. The New York Times reports on the divestment movement:
The university with the biggest endowment, Harvard, has declined to divest, despite pressure from many students and outside organizations. […]
Pitzer College, however, is one of a number of schools that have promised more extensive efforts to remove fossil fuels from their endowments. Donald P. Gould, a trustee and chair of the Pitzer investment committee and president of Gould Asset Management, said that everyone involved in the decision knew that the direct and immediate effect on the companies would be minimal.
“I don’t think that anyone who favors divestment is arguing that the institutions’ sale of the fossil fuel company stock is going to have much impact, if any, on either the stocks or the companies themselves,” he said, since the market capitalizations of the companies is immense.
Even if the movement were to depress share prices, the energy companies, which make enormous profits from their products, do not need to go to capital markets to raise money, he noted. But in the long term, he said, “divestment seeks to work indirectly on these companies by changing the conversation about the climate.”
Funny, that: Most philanthropic endeavors that involve moving around and reinvesting billions of dollars at a potential loss (especially dollars that fund the education of our best and brightest) have a much more concrete goal than “changing a conversation.”
Even that vague aim is not seeing much meaningful success. The Rockefellers are in a rare position to ignore market factors. That money is certainly theirs to deploy as they please, and there’s something poetic about a family whose fortune was made on oil divesting from that very commodity years down the road.
However, while the Rockefellers might be able to forget the true purpose of investments—making money—the rest of us likely don’t have that option. The environmental movement ought to spend what political capital it still has on efforts that wed economic growth and environmental sustainability, rather than hold up grand but ultimately hollow gestures as some sign that the world is ready to stop burning fossil fuels.