You know the world is changing when the heir to a vast oil fortune renounces fossil fuels.
On Monday, Stephen Heintz, a descendant of Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller and president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a philanthropy with assets worth $860 million, announced the Fund's plans to divest from investment in fossil fuels. The fund will reduce those investments to less than one percent of its total portfolio by the end of the year and develop a plan for continued divestment "as quickly as is prudent over the next few years."
Heintz believes John D. Rockefeller would have agreed to the move.
"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 quoted by Reuters.
The Rockefeller Brothers Fund's announcement was released one day ahead of the opening of the United Nations Climate Summit; an event the U.N. says is meant to "catalyze ambitious action on the ground" to reduce carbon emissions and to rally support for an "ambitious" global agreement scheduled for next year, to limit rises in the global temperature to less than two degrees Celsius.
The campaign by philanthropies and other institutions to divest from fossil fuels has been ongoing for several years now, and is not without controversy.
Earlier this month, the University of California announced a new set of efforts to use its $91 billion portfolio to work towards "climate solutions." It also agreed to boost solar energy use across the university system -- but backed away from demands that it divest its fossil fuel holdings, which account for about $10 billion in assets.
"We believe we now have an effective plan of action to both protect and bolster the long-term returns for the university and to make a significant contribution to climate change solutions," UC Regents chief investment officer Jagdeep Singh Bachher said in a press statement. "We could have made a narrow divestment decision, but the university is not in the business of taking the easy route."
And last last year Harvard, which leads U.S. universities with an endowment of over $32 billion, refused to divest from fossil fuel companies.
"I...find a troubling inconsistency in the notion that, as an investor, we should boycott a whole class of companies at the same time that, as individuals and as a community, we are extensively relying on those companies' products and services for so much of what we do every day, university president Drew Faust said in a statement.
"Given our pervasive dependence on these companies for the energy to heat and light our buildings, to fuel our transportation, and to run our computers and appliances," she continued, "it is hard for me to reconcile that reliance with a refusal to countenance any relationship with these companies through our investments."
But this past May Stanford University, with its endowment of $18.7 billion, announced it would no longer use funds from that endowment to invest in coal mining companies.
"The university's review has concluded that coal is one of the most carbon-intensive methods of energy generation and that other sources can be readily substituted for it." Stanford President John Hennessy said at the time. "Moving away from coal in the investment context is a small, but constructive, step while work continues, at Stanford and elsewhere, to develop broadly viable sustainable energy solutions for the future."