The Rockefellers call it quits on oil, divesting themselves from fossil fuel industries

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Aaron Schachter: I’m Aaron Schachter in for Marco Werman and you are listening to The World. Quick, name the richest and most powerful family in American history. I bet a few of you answered the Rockefellers. Their power is built on the fortune that patriarch, John D. Rockefeller, made in the oil business a century ago. Now, his descendants are pledging to divest themselves from fossil fuel investments because of the industry’s impact on climate change. Jenna Nicholas is director of the Divest-Invest Philanthropies, a group trying to get foundations out of fossil fuel investments. Put the Rockefeller pledge in perspective, how big a move is this? Jenna Nicholas: It’s a really exciting move and it’s part of a much larger commitment that we have of 50 billion dollars that’s being announced today across both the foundation community as well as individuals, faith-based groups, hospitals, universities, schools and cities from around the world. And so, it’s really exciting to see the Rockefeller brothers fund leadership in this space. They’re part of a coalition of 67 foundations from around the world that have come onboard. It’s really exciting to see the statement that they’ve made to move in this direction, as well as the other institutions that are following their lead. Schachter: As you say, you’re getting philanthropies, schools, rich folks joining the ranks - it’s hard to see these businesses going away though. What is the point of your movement? Nicholas: A big part of it, and part of the reason that we’ve been emphasizing both the divestment as well as the investment piece, is to actively move this capital from fossil fuels into new energy solutions - renewable energy, energy efficiency, water purification, agriculture, companies and innovative technologies that are really leading this energy transition to the future. And so, it’s really the couple of both the divestment on the one hand with the investment that is really the storemark of this community. Schachter: Is this Rockefeller pledge really about money at this stage or is it a symbolic thing? Nicholas: I think it’s both. I mean, it’s a significant amount of capital on their part that’s moving in this direction but it’s also the statement that comes with it, especially given the history of the Rockefeller family, their money coming from oil, I think it’s really significant that they’ve taken this step and seeing as how it’s from the Rockefeller brothers fund, talked a lot about how their history of the family and that if the ancestors of the Rockefeller family were alive today, that they would see this as a smart business decision to be making. Schachter: Jenna, did you help negotiate this deal? Nicholas: There’s been a whole coalition of us that’s been part of the process, yes. Schachter: What is it like talking to folks like this, trying to get them to take their money out of what I imagine is still a hugely lucrative industry? Nicholas: I think a big part of this is that business as usual is not the business of the future. We see this, the pressure of having this divestment take place and having investors say to these companies that really the previous operations are no longer the way of the future, I think is really making fossil fuel companies think about what other work they could be doing in the renewable energy space. A big part of the arguments that we’ve been making is that this isn’t just an ethical and a social argument, it’s also a financial argument. The case around stranded assets and the overvaluation of fossil fuel companies really means that for these endowments and individuals that are making this decision, there’s a very strong financial case to be made for this as well. Schachter: What has been the reaction from the fossil fuel industry to the announcement today perhaps and your movement in general? Nicholas: In general, one of the things that we’ve been keen to emphasize is it’s not just a matter of taking the money out and that’s it, but really having conversations and engaging with groups and actually saying “Okay, what are the alternatives and what can we be doing differently to really lead this transition as well in these clean energy solutions.” Schachter: Have you been to Exxon’s offices? Are they nice to you when you show up? Nicholas: I think a big part of this engagement. It’s very much “Okay, let’s talk about the ways in which we can work together on some of these issues,” and whilst of course a big part of this is us taking capital out of these companies, for the future and for us to be building the future that we’re all hoping for, having the fossil fuel companies actually engage and look at alternatives is a key component of that. And so ensuring that they’re also alongside that conversation is a very important part of it as well. Schachter: Jenna Nicholas is director of the Divest-Invest Philanthropies. Jenna, thanks a lot for joining us. Nicholas: Thank you so much.