The new climate activists? Fossil fuel heirs
Of all the people you consider joining the ranks of climate activists and protesting against Big Oil, the heirs to fossil fuels are probably the last people you would think of joining. Yet two American families who became fabulously wealthy from ugly black gold have a new generation using their inherited wealth to do good for the climate.
There are many ways each of us can make decisions to support climate solutions. We reduce our individual carbon footprints, share clean energy information, divest from fossil fuel companies, or invest in companies that care about the environment, society and governance (ESG). We participate in public debate by attending meetings, contacting our legislators or supporting climate-conscious candidates. We commit to transitioning to an energy transition sufficient to keep the planet below a temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030.
There can be a big pushback against climate activism, of course. The New York Post, a conservative newspaper, wrote about “leftist” groups such as the Rockefeller Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and Quadrivium who fund “the radical and eco-leftist Environmental Defense Fund.” This year, Republican attorneys general have fought the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) plans to require companies to disclose their climate risks as part of their operations. Local opposition to renewable energy infrastructure continues to be all too common.
But, on the other hand, support for climate action is growing. Indeed, many groups around the world are fighting against the great injustices of the climate crisis and making it clear how poor countries, least responsible for global warming, are suffering its worst effects. These climate activists consistently denounce companies that greenwash in their annual reports, and these same climate activists remain resilient when climate policies and policies fail citizens.
Inevitably, climate action finance is needed for robust climate action, and it seems to come from some unlikely places.
Fossil fuel heirs are using their wealth for the climate good
American business billionaires have tended, especially in their senior years, to appreciate charitable donations. Andrew Carnegie almost gave up 90% of his fortune, and Henry Ford left much of his to an eponymous foundation, which has accumulated an endowment of over $12 billion. What is unique, however, is that an American family dynasty offers retribution for the source of its wealth.
Some notable and young fossil fuel heirs are modeling what using their fortunes can do for climate activism.
Aileen Gettywhose multi-generational family heritage stems from the oil industry, is a founding donor of the Climate Emergency Fund (CEF) and has donated over $1 million to the climate action organization. The California-based CEF was organized in 2019 on the idea that civil resistance is integral to achieving the rapid and widespread social and political change needed to address the climate crisis.
Since its foundation, the CEF is proud to say that it has the following achievements:
- 86 organizations funded
- More than 22,000 climate activists trained
- More than a million activists mobilized
- 9 million people engaged
Getty has been an active philanthropist throughout her adult life. She is the founder and president of the Aileen Getty Foundationwhich supports organizations and individuals around the world who are committed to responding to the climate emergency and treating the planet and its people with kindness and respect.
In an email to New York Times, Getty said his belief in the effectiveness of activism was unwavering, especially with the clock ticking. Civil disobedience was meant to serve as a wake-up call, she said, and the discomfort caused by disruptive protests pales in comparison to what may well be in store. “Let’s not forget that we are talking about extinction,” Ms Getty wrote. “Don’t we have a responsibility to take all means to try to protect life on Earth?
The Equation Campaign is a 10-year fundraising initiative aimed at creating a safe and just future by building the power of movements to keep oil and gas in the ground. Launched in 2021 by two Rockefeller heirs – Rebecca Lambert and Peter Case – who are trustees of the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Equation campaign supports strategies and initiatives that disrupt the power of the oil and gas industry and build the power of movements and communities. people on the front lines. They do so by using the levers that have given industry its unprecedented influence: finance, media, law and politics.
They provide funding that supports what they say are the two missing pieces of the equation in most climate philanthropy and activism to date:
- Supply-side strategies to stop or delay new or expanded projects and directly target the power of the fossil fuel industry
- Racial justice movement strategies that focus the expertise and power of communities most affected by both the climate crisis and the impacts of oil and gas operations
For the Equation campaign, halting oil and gas expansion has a quantifiable impact. The cancellation of a Keystone XL pipeline extension, after years of resistance from local tribes, farmers and ranchers, prevented the discharge of as many as 180 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year, according to Indigenous Environmental Network.
John D. Rockefeller founded Standard Oil in 1870 and became the country’s first billionaire. In 2018, ExxonMobil appeared in federal court, affirming that the Rockefellers – the original owners of the megacorporation – were financing a conspiracy against it.
Final Thoughts on Fossil Fuel Heirs and Climate Activism Donations
Since its inception, the Climate Emergency Fund has distributed grants (some as small as $2,000) to dozens of groups, including 350.org and those linked to Youth Climate Strikes. Extinction Rebellion has chapters around the world and has drawn intense attention to the climate crisis through disruptive demonstrations in London and subsequent demonstrations in Los Angeles, New York and elsewhere.
Founded by members of the Rockefeller family, the mission of BankFWD is to accelerate the transition to a fair and zero-carbon economy by encouraging banks to align their business strategies with the 1.5° target of the Paris Climate Agreement. They argue that the influence of bank customers, especially private banking customers, is an underutilized and powerful resource in the fight against climate change. The momentum is building, but most banks remain far from this objective.
Such work of acquired wealth can and should be selfless. In this age of climate crisis awareness, it’s time to see other fossil fuel heirs beyond a few Rockerfellers and Gettys apply their good fortune to save the planet.
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