By Lois Gilhooly, GLOBUS Correspondent
The words ‘billionaires’ and ‘boycott’ are not the most obvious of pairings. So, when I read the words ‘Getty’ and ‘Extinction Rebellion’ in the same New York Times article, I couldn’t help but double-take. Most will now be aware of Extinction Rebellion’s prolific protests. However, where do such organisations gain the funding to produce such dramatic demonstrations? One of the answers is the Climate Emergency Fund – this is where Getty comes in.
So what is this Climate Emergency Fund? The fund was put together by it’s board of directors, composed of Sarah Ezzy, founder of the fund and manager of the Aileen Getty Foundation, and Trevor Nelson, CEO of i(x) investments. The fund has already donated £500,000 to grassroot environmental groups, including a whopping $350,000 of matched donations to Extinction Rebellion.
However, Getty do not appear to be the only one giving their fortunes for the cause. Even the children of John. D. Rockerfeller himself – heirs to the Standard Oil fortune – are doing their bit. The Rockerfeller Fund is an $860 million dollar philanthropic organisation, founded on the aim to lead the energy industry foward in the pursuit of divestment. The fund recently managed to reduce their exposure to coal and tar sands projects to a mere 0.2%, whilst also trying to encourage the use of ‘impact investments’. For example, they have been trying to win over the likes of Exxon Mobil, when a significant group of shareholders attempted to force EXXON to acknowledge the threat posed by fossil fuels to climate change. Moreover, the fund makes a notable $20 million commitment to ‘Sustainable Asset Fund’ which aims to promote mindful use of water, agricultural and renewable resources. These are definitely some considerable, albeit very ironic, achievements.
But the real question here is, if any of this is having any impact? It’s all well and good having a few billionaires – many of whom have contributed their fair share of pollution over the years – throw money at the problem. But do we really believe the savior of our environment, will turn out to be the very people who’ve built their wealth off of exploiting our environment in the first place? With only 11% of the entire global population contributing to about half of total carbon dioxide emissions, I would argue it is very hard to say yes.
However, it can be argued that these big names are following a trend which they, in partaking, are encouraging as well. This is the modern idea of an activist investor; a person who buys significant shares in a company to obtain board seats to influence a company’s direction. This phenomenon has grown within recent years, with companies increasingly becoming subjected to activist demands. For example, in Europe, Elliot Management has three new investments in which their total capital invested amounted to >$1.6 Billion. Another investment activist is Krupa Global Investments, which has three new investments which amass to $7 Million. Moreover, Arabella Advisors, a company which provides a strategic guidance for philanthropy, states that the total assets of firms who have divested from fossil fuels equate to $46.24 trillion.
Therefore, it seems that this is capitalisms’ answer to carbon puzzle – more market activity. However, this raises extreme ethical questions about blame and responsibility of the current climate crisis we now find ourselves in. I, for one, do find it difficult to put my faith into those who are promoting change via a system which can be said largely to blame for environmental degradation, and who are essentially unbound to deliver these promises, due to continuing deregulation.
After all we must remember that these aren’t politicians, these people don’t have a mandate given by us nor responsibility to deliver. However when the London’s Metropolitan Police issued a city wide ban of Extinction Rebellion protests, who else are we left to put our faith into exactly?
Photo by Colin Watts on Unsplash
Arabella Advisors (2018). The Global Fossil Fuel Divestment and Clean Energy Investment Movement. [online] Available at: https://www.arabellaadvisors.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Global-Divestment-Report-2018.pdf [Accessed 9 Nov. 2019].
Raworth, K. (2013). Defining a Safe and Just Space for Humanity. Chapter 3 (pp. 34). In: State of the World 2013. Is Sustainability Still Possible?, The Worldwatch Institute, Washington: Island Press
Schwartz, J. (2019). Meet the Millionaires Helping to Pay for Climate Protests. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/27/climate/climate-change-protests-funding.html [Accessed 24 Oct. 2019].
Useful article with very important questions. You/others might be interested in reading ‘Winner Takes All’ by Anand Giridharadas about the role of billionaires.