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Rockefellers Divest from Fossil Fuels—Starting with Exxon Because #ExxonKnew

The SEC also rebuked ExxonMobil this week as it told the oil giant it must disclose to its shareholders the financial risks of climate change

The Rockefeller family's decision to divest itself of Exxon stock is a pointed condemnation of the oil behemoth—which originally began as Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company. (Photo: Joe Brusky/flickr/cc)

With sharp words for ExxonMobil's decades-long climate change cover-up, on Wednesday the $130 million Rockefeller Family Fund announced that it has sold all of its ExxonMobil shares and that it plans to ditch all fossil fuels companies' stocks.

The Rockefeller Family Fund is a charity led by the heirs of John D. Rockefeller, "one of America's original oil barons and among the wealthiest men in history," as Quartz put it. The charity's divestment comes a year and half after another Rockefeller family charity, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, made headlines when it also decided to divest from fossil fuels.

The Rockefellers' move is a pointed condemnation of the oil behemoth—which originally began as Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company—and this week's announcement specifically criticized the corporation's decades-long denial of climate change.

"We would be remiss if we failed to focus on what we believe to be the morally reprehensible conduct on the part of ExxonMobil," the charity argued:

Evidence appears to suggest that the company worked since the 1980s to confuse the public about climate change’s march, while simultaneously spending millions to fortify its own infrastructure against climate change’s destructive consequences and track new exploration opportunities as the Arctic’s ice receded. Appropriate authorities will determine if the company violated any laws, but as a matter of good governance, we cannot be associated with a company exhibiting such apparent contempt for the public interest.

ExxonMobil continues to try to deny and deflect blame for its climate change deceit. And so the oil giant perhaps unsurprisingly "disputed the fund’s characterization of its conduct," Quartz reported. An Exxon spokesman went so far as to invoke a paranoid "conspiracy" against the company, somehow involving the descendants of Exxon's founder, in a conversation with Bloomberg News.


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The continued denial appears par for the course for a company whose response to the #ExxonKnew scandal was to launch a campaign to discredit the journalists who first exposed it.

In another rebuke to Exxon, on Tuesday the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) sent a letter (pdf) to the company instructing it to "include a climate change resolution on its annual shareholder proxy," Reuters reported Thursday. The SEC's decision marks a major defeat for the company who had thus far refused to acquiesce to its shareholders' demand that it disclose how it may be affected by climate change regulations in its annual reports.

"The SEC has rejected Exxon's attempt to silence investors' concerns about the very real financial risks associated with climate change," said Shanna Cleveland of Ceres, a non-profit organization that advocates for sustainable business practices, in an interview with Reuters.

The Rockefeller Family Fund's endowment, which is already "devoted largely to grants for environmentalism, women’s rights, and civic watchdogging," will also "eliminate holdings of ExxonMobil, and all coal, and tar sands-based companies," the charity reported.

The oil baron's descendants concluded this week's announcement with a call to all investors to join them in divesting from fossil fuels.

"The science and intent enunciated by the Paris agreement cannot be more clear," the announcement read, "far from finding additional sources of fossil fuels, we must keep most of the already discovered reserves in the ground if there is any hope for human and natural ecosystems to survive and thrive in the decades ahead."

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