The Newest Climate Activists? Fossil Fuel Empire Heirs
A small but growing movement of heirs from fossil fuel dynasties are now redirecting their family wealth to support action on climate change. Recognizing the devastating climate impacts of the industry that created their fortunes, these heirs aim to fund initiatives accelerating the transition to clean energy and a decarbonized future.
Among the most prominent climate-concerned heirs are Aileen Getty, whose grandfather J. Paul Getty built the Getty Oil Company, and Peter Gill Case and Hall Rockefeller, descendants of John D. Rockefeller who founded Standard Oil. Through targeted philanthropy and outreach, these scions of oil and gas empires are working to curb emissions and hasten the end of the fossil fuel era.
Aileen Getty – Driving Climate Emergency Action
Aileen Getty, whose family wealth came from Getty Oil’s sale to Texaco in the 1980s, has been at the forefront of funding climate emergency efforts. She is the founding donor of the Climate Emergency Fund (CEF), which provides grants to activists and organizations engaged in climate direct action like protests, blockades, and lobbying campaigns.
Since 2018, Getty has contributed over $1 million annually to CEF from her family trust. The fund then distributes this financing through rapid small grants to catalyze urgent climate activism globally. According to Getty, “This is the final call for humanity to fully address climate change.” She aims to support disruptive activism that pressures governments and corporations to enact an emergency climate response.
Beyond founding CEF, Getty also bankrolls the Fridays for Future youth climate movement founded by Greta Thunberg. Her unprecedented philanthropy for climate action signals profound generational shifts even within dynastic fossil fuel families.
The Rockefeller Brothers Take on Big Oil
Peter Gill Case and Hall Rockefeller descended from the Standard Oil founder have also publicly distanced themselves from Big Oil and redirected funds towards climate solutions. The brothers helped launch The Equation Campaign in June 2022, a philanthropic initiative designed to keep oil and gas reserves in the ground.
The campaign brings together scientists, activists and storytellers to campaign for preventing future fossil fuel projects and winding down existing production. In a statement, the Rockefeller brothers acknowledged their moral responsibility being tied to Big Oil, saying “Our family helped create the oil and gas industry that’s causing the climate crisis. Now we must help lead the transition away from fossil fuels.”
The Equation Campaign plans to deploy $30 million over the next ten years towards movements that fight drilling, pipelines, and infrastructure locking in continued fossil fuel usage. The Rockefeller family leaves behind a complex legacy intertwined with oil. But through this initiative, their heirs are resolutely working to curb emissions and hasten the inevitable transition to renewables.
The Power of Heirs Rejecting Fossil Fuel Fortunes
The interventions of Getty and the Rockefeller heirs have forced wider reckonings within their immensely wealthy families around the moral dilemma of ongoing fossil fuel profits. Their actions also exemplify how the greatest privilege can instill the greatest responsibility.
These heirs cannot fully remedy the extraordinary harms done by building fossil fuel empires over generations. However, their contributions to the climate movement highlight the enormous potential of the moneyed in fighting for an accelerated energy transition.
Getty and Rockefeller are unlikely to solely fund the end of the fossil fuel era. But their commitments shine sunlight on the need for others blessed with dynastic fossil fuel wealth to follow suit. Climatic stability demands nothing less.