Environmentalists cheered as the Rockefellers, heirs to a fortune built on oil, announced they would divest their charitable fund of its fossil fuel holdings in the name of fighting global warming.
No one was more excited than former Vice President Al Gore, who used Rockefeller’s divestment as proof to world leaders that coal, gas and oil investments weren’t going to be economical in the future.
Gore had other reasons to cheer the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s decision to divest — his own “green” investment firm would be a primary beneficiary of the nonprofit’s decision to ditch fossil fuels.
The $811 million Rockefeller Brothers Fund began divestment in September 2014, and has since lowered its fossil fuel holdings to 4.5 percent of its endowment value, according to its annual report. As part of its divestment efforts, RBF said it will invest 10 percent of its endowed assets into investments with “measurable impact aligned with its mission.”
One of those “mission-aligned” investments just happened to be a London-based investment firm founded and run by Gore. It’s unclear exactly how much RBF has invested with Gore’s firm, Generation Investment Management, but the nonprofit has committed $67.5 million to such funds.
“Since its divestment announcement, the Fund has invested in four impact investing funds: Generation Climate Solutions Fund II, Turner Multifamily Impact Fund, Elevar Equity III, and Vision Ridge Sustainable Asset Fund,” RBF disclosed in its annual report (emphasis added). “A total of $67.5 million has been committed to these funds, of which approximately $7.2 million has been deployed through July 31, 2015.”
Gore’s $750 million Generation Climate Solutions Fund II is a “green” investment fund incorporated in 2014 in the Cayman Islands that’s sold $42 million to eight U.S. investors, according to the fund’s Securities and Exchange Commission filings. The fund requires a $3 million commitment from outside investors.
Generation Investment Management declined to comment on how much “divested” funds RBF handed over as part of its commitment to green its portfolio.
“Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that Al Gore is the one profiting from the divestment effort, but it’s still a startling discovery,” Matt Dempsey with DivestmentFacts.com, an oil and gas industry-backed group opposing the campaign to divest from fossil fuels, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Rockefeller’s decision to divest was cheered by environmental activists trying to get major institutions to divest from fossil fuels in the effort to show companies and pension funds they don’t need fossil fuels to see strong returns.
The divestment movement has gained the most traction at college campuses, where environmental groups have convinced about 30 schools, including Stanford University and Georgetown University, to unload their fossil fuel holdings.
Gore has also been a major proponent of divestment, arguing that “sustainable capitalism” should guide investment decisions. Gore and his business partner David Blood wrote an oped in The Wall Street Journal warning of a “carbon asset bubble.” They argued government regulations to fight global warming would render fossil fuel reserves uneconomical in the coming decades.
“If I were a student, I would support what you’re doing,” Gore told students at Harvard University in 2013. “But if I were a board member, I would do what I did when we took up the Apartheid issue. This is an opportunity for learning and the raising of awareness, for the discussion of sustainable capitalism.”
Interestingly enough, RBf has been a major backer of the founders of the divestment movement. Activist Bill McKibben and his group 350.org have been the main force behind college divestment — McKibben got millions from RBF and other groups to campaign against the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
RBF President Stephen Heintz even participated in a panel discussion in September on divestment hosted by the European Green Party and 350.org. Heintz said that while RBF was divesting from fossil fuels, “it’s going to take us three years to get down to zero and to do it responsibly.”
“Meanwhile students are the ones picking up the tab for a symbolic gesture that will have no impact on the climate,” Dempsey told TheDCNF.
A recent report by the National Association of Scholars, lays out that only 34 percent of the colleges that promised to fully divest from fossil fuels have done so, and these schools tended to be in liberal states. The finding blunts the divestment campaign’s impact around the country.
“What this movement does do, however, is impress on a whole generation of students an attitude of grim hostility to intellectual freedom, democratic self-government, and responsible stewardship of natural resources,” wrote NAS’ Rachelle Peterson, the study’s author.
RBF did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment.
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