The timing was perfect. Monday was the day after many noisy climate marches around the world, and the day before President Obama’s pointless pep talk at the United Nations Climate Summit, so the Rockefeller Brothers Fund chose it to announce its “divestment from fossil fuels.”
Remarkably, the dry 500-word statement on their Website drew wide notice – the Rockefeller name, probably. RBF, as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund is known in the philanthropy business, is overshadowed by the better-known Rockefeller Foundation, so why release this expression of their climate piety to a world that knew them only vaguely if at all?
Is RBF’s divestment from the energy source that keeps America running financially significant? We should be able to find out because the Fund is a private foundation, meaning that all its investments are public information under the law and must be shown on its annual IRS Form 990-PF. What does it say?
A lot of nothing, really: RBF has its $700.2 million portfolio invested in 52 commingled investment funds and 50 limited partnerships that don’t have to reveal their investments and trades, so even RBF itself doesn’t know from day to day whether fossil fuel shares might be in them.
RBF directors can instruct their key investment management contractor, Investure LLC – which has $487.9 million of the total $700 million invested in five of its own funds – to dump fossil fuel holdings, but that would require a very cautious, very slow process so board members could make sure they don’t violate their fiduciary trust to keep the Fund solvent.
RBF’s visible investments in fossil fuel limited partnerships – both of them, Natural Gas Partners VIII and NGP Energy Technology Partners – were sold off in 2012 as dead weight, costing RBF a net capital loss of $49,000. At the same time, RBF also dumped its three biofuel investments at a loss over a million dollars.
Nothing indicates anything else solid to divest, but there could be hundreds of millions tucked in there and nobody would know.
With such an underwhelming picture emerging from the details behind RBF’s divestment announcement, why didn’t the Fund brag about its leading role in creating the climate issue to destroy fossil fuels in the first place?
First, the public hasn’t a clue how ferociously RBF has been wrecking fossil fuel industries by funding politically ambitious climate advocates. Maybe RBF doesn’t want the public to know, given crumbling climate science and vanishing world concern about global warming. But beginning when the Fund was established in 1940 by the six grandchildren of Standard Oil mogul John D. Rockefeller, RBF has poured billions into the broad environmental movement, becoming its biggest single donor from the 1950s into the 1990s.
In 1984, under its program titled “One World: Sustainable Resource Use,” RBF began campaigning specifically against fossil fuel industries with huge grants to promote climate change ideology. RBF sponsored climate scientists’ workshops in Europe in 1985 and 1987; it co-funded the creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1988, donated to the IPCC trust fund and kept very busy giving grants for the 1992 Earth Summit to push an anti-fossil fuel treaty package.
In 2008, RBF launched an incredible $7 million per year death-blow campaign against Alberta oil sands (“tar sands”) with the strategy, “Raise the Negatives, Raise the Costs, Slow Down and Stop Infrastructure, and Enroll Key Decision-Makers,” as shown in a leaked PowerPoint presentation by Fund program manager Michael Northrop, posted here as an easy-to-view pdf.
The sheer malice and unconcern about the economic impact of the anti-oil sands campaign is breathtaking, and has shocked many viewers.
RBF also funded the launch and growth of Bill McKibben’s 350.org, leader of the divestment campaign, with $800,000, including a 2012 gift of $225,000. There’s much more at http://oilsandsfactcheck.org/
But to the question of why the Rockefeller Brothers Fund made its “divestment from fossil fuels” statement when it did: The last paragraph in the announcement suggested that RBF’s plans and experience “will be of interest to other foundations and institutional investors” – because they had arranged a press conference where such investors showed up and “pledged” to also divest. It was rigged.
RBF wants everyone else to divest the energy source that keeps America running – perhaps even those with something visible to divest.