Any time you are a member of a club, and one of the founding members drops a very public hammer on that club, things get rough from a public relations perspective. Accusations fly, and massive counter programming campaigns begin from various factions.
Such is the case with the Rockefeller family’s recent parting of the ways with Big Oil. The patriarch of the family, commonly thought of as one of the first American business tycoons, John D. Rockefeller, founded the Standard Oil Company in 1870.
Somewhere down the line, John’s progeny, who all benefited wildly from the fossil fuel industry, founded the Rockefeller Family Fund, a charity created to support environmental causes, economic justice and other related issues. Now that charity, run by Rockefeller’s direct family line, is pulling its assets out of oil companies, including major holdings in Exxon Mobil.
Fund representatives told CBS News, “While the global community works to eliminate the use of fossil fuels, it makes little sense — financially or ethically — to continue holding investments in these companies. There is no sane rationale for companies to continue to explore for new sources of hydrocarbons.”
That statement, even more than the funding transfer, rang out like a shot directly aimed at the oil industry. It was a personal statement. After all, Exxon was one of the companies spun off from Standard Oil when President Roosevelt went trust busting at the turn of the 20th Century.
That may have been enough to start a war of words between the representatives of the various parties involved, but the attacks didn’t end there.
“Evidence appears to suggest that the company worked since the 1980s to confuse the public about climate change’s march while simultaneously spending millions to fortify its own infrastructure against climate change’s destructive consequences and track new exploration opportunities as the Arctic’s ice receded,” spokesmen representing the fund said.
This is not the first time the family has confronted the oil industry head-on. Senator Jay Rockefeller once accused Exxon of directly funding climate change deniers.
Now the gloves are off. CBS News reported a response received from Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers: “It’s not surprising that they’re divesting from the company since they’re already funding a conspiracy against us.”
The “he said/she said” tactic was just the beginning of Exxon’s response. They have repeatedly argued the science on climate change is inconclusive, and now they are trying to paint the Rockefellers as climate extremists on a crusade against business.
How the public responds to this exchange depends both on preconceived ideas as well as which side does a better job of counter programming PR. Should be interesting to watch.