Newspaper article International New York Times

Foundations Target Fossil Fuels ; Climate Change Concerns Turn Colleges and Cities into Activist Shareholders

Newspaper article International New York Times

Foundations Target Fossil Fuels ; Climate Change Concerns Turn Colleges and Cities into Activist Shareholders

Article excerpt

Taking cues from old fights to end apartheid and oppose tobacco, several foundations are addressing the warming of the planet by restricting their portfolios.

Seventeen foundations controlling nearly $1.8 billion in investments have united to commit to pulling their money out of companies that do business in fossil fuels, the group planned to announce on Thursday.

The move is a victory for a developing divestiture campaign that has found success largely among small colleges and environmentally conscious cities, but has not yet won over the wealthiest institutions like Harvard.

But the participation of the foundations, including the Russell Family Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America and the John Merck Fund, is the largest commitment to the effort, and stems in part from a push among philanthropies to bring their investing in line with their missions.

"At a minimum, our grants should not be undercut by our investments," said Ellen Dorsey, executive director of the Wallace Global Fund, which has practically divested itself of fossil fuels already and is coordinating the effort among foundations. "If you owned fossil fuels in your investment portfolio, it became increasingly clear to foundations that they own climate change, and they're potentially profiting from those investments" at the same time as they make grants to fight the issue.

She said she expected several larger foundations to commit to the effort, which includes moving investments to renewable energy or other sustainability ventures, in the coming months.

Among the largest in the current group is the Park Foundation, with a portfolio worth roughly $335 million, and the Schmidt Family Foundation, with about $304 million, co-founded by Google's executive chairman, Eric E. Schmidt.

The divestiture campaign is modeled on earlier efforts aimed at ending apartheid in South Africa and ceasing to support tobacco companies. Many groups are involved, but the movement has largely been escalated by a grass-roots organization, 350.org, whose name refers to 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which some scientists say is the maximum safe level, a threshold already exceeded.

In addition to the foundations, 22 cities, two counties, 20 religious organizations, nine colleges and universities and six other institutions had signed up to rid themselves of investments in fossil fuel companies, frequently defined as the top 200 coal-, oil- and gas-producing companies identified in a report from the Carbon Tracker Initiative, based in London. …

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