The name Rockefeller is deeply synonymous with turning oil into gold. Familial patriarch John D. Rockefeller founded Standard Oil in 1870 and bought up most of the oil refineries in the United States, eventually controlling over 90 percent of the American oil business. “Competition,” he said, “is a sin.”
That empire, in inflation-adjusted terms, made him the richest man in history with a fortune estimated at $336 billion in 2010 dollars. The Standard Oil monopoly, meanwhile, was broken up and evolved into the global oil brands Exxon-Mobil, Amoco, and Chevron.
But the times they are a-changin’, and you don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
Rockefeller’s descendants — who still control a cool $860 million through the family philanthropy, the Rockefeller Brothers fund — are dumping the endowment’s investments in the oil business and reinvesting at least a portion of that wealth into renewable energy….
As I wrote last December, renewable energy and particularly solar are on a very steep price trend downward thanks to a continued spurt of technological innovations that have reduced the cost of manufacturing. If the trend of falling prices continues for another 10 years, solar-generated electricity in the U.S. will descend to a point where it’s competitive with coal and nuclear — by 2020, or even 2015 for the sunniest parts of America. And if the trend continues for the next 20 years, solar costs will be half that of the price of coal today.
I guess many think that John D. Rockefeller is turning over in his grave to see what is left of his hard-earned money being taken out of fossil fuel stocks. As usual I take a different view of that. John D. was a guy who saw opportunities and had a way of taking advantage of them. Now don’t get me wrong, I certainly believe that he could have used a HUGE dose of empathy along the way and his contributions to America, like Henry Ford’s would have been much greater than they were. But he was a guy who know an opportunity when it knocked.
Would John D still be into oil if he were alive today? I kind of doubt it. He would probably see that fossil fuels have pretty much run their course. Being driven almost totally by the profit motive I doubt he would lay much merit of the “damaging the earth” parts but… Of course it is only speculation as that is all any of us can do, but I kind of believe he would be in renewable resources as the next “great” thing to make a profit from.
So, unlike many others I think John D is saying “It’s about time you guys who are controlling my wealth made some changes. He was all about changes wasn’t he?