My great-grandfather, John D. Rockefeller Sr., created the Standard Oil Company and I inherited shares in the companies it spun off, including Exxon Mobil. But this year I donated those shares to the nonprofit Rockefeller Family Fund's Environmental program, which sold them and is using the $400,000 proceeds to fight global warming.
I lost faith in Exxon Mobil's future value. A prime reason is that Exxon's valuation is based largely on the immense untapped reserves of oil and gas it owns. And yet if future generations are to inherit a livable world, most of those reserves must stay in the ground.
Cynics may say that foreknowledge of the dire consequences won't stop humanity from using this fossil fuel. I would answer that Exxon Mobil may not have any choice in the matter. The company bases its growth and stability projections on increasing its sale of fossil fuels to developing countries. And yet those are the places that will be hurt first and worst by climate change — indeed, many are already suffering the effects. As those nations confront ecological harm and consequent economic damage — in some cases even possible economic collapse — will they really provide Exxon Mobil with the growth it forecasts?
In shareholder resolutions and meetings with company representatives over the last 15 years, I and other members of my family have argued that it is shortsighted for Exxon to insist on remaining “an oil and gas company” — rather than evolving into an energy company prepared to transition to a post-carbon economy. I thought the company was being foolish. But we now know it was worse: it was being deceitful, in a way that is almost unimaginably heartless to future generations.