Matthew Brown, AP

The following editorial appeared in the Dallas Morning News on Tuesday, Sept. 23:

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It took Richard Nixon to go to China to reset U.S.-China relations. And it took big institutional investors to pull their dollars to change South Africa in the 1980s and Big Tobacco in the 1990s. Now will the Rockefeller family’s decision to divest their charity of fossil fuels be a tipping point for global action on climate change?

On Monday, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a private charitable foundation that controls nearly $900 million in assets, said it is “moving soberly, but with real commitment” to remove fossil fuels from its complex investment portfolio while increasing its investment in alternate energy sources. The decision promises to have an outsize impact because the foundation is no environmental zealot; the Rockefeller name is synonymous with oil.

The fund’s leaders are, however, smart investors who understand the moral and economic dimensions of unfettered climate change. Their announcement comes on the heels of a new report finding that the world is not moving aggressively enough to control emissions of greenhouse gases, the major contributor to climate change.

According to the Global Carbon Project, global emissions of greenhouse gases increased 2.3 percent in 2013 to record levels, with China, the United States, the European Union and India topping the list of emitters. Particularly concerning is that emissions rose 2.9 percent in the United States after several years of declines.

The Rockefeller decision is part of a larger divestment movement. At least 180 philanthropies, individuals, religious organizations, pension funds and local governments have promised to sell assets worth more than $50 billion in fossil fuel companies in favor of cleaner alternatives.

Clearly, this is still a drop in the bucket when you consider that Exxon Mobil generated $111.6 billion in revenue and $8.8 billion in profit in just the second quarter of 2014. But it is another indication that businesses and others realize that the clock is ticking. Scientists say emissions must start declining within the next few years if the world is to have any chance to stem the adverse health and climate effects of excessive greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The World Meteorological Organization estimates that carbon dioxide levels now are 42 percent higher than before the Industrial Revolution — and worsening.

This should be a wake-up call for global action. CO2 builds up, so even if all emissions stopped today it would take years before concentrations dropped significantly. Aside from the health and climate dangers, companies caught on the wrong side of climate change trends stand to lose big.

That’s why it is important that big-dollar investors like the Rockefeller family use their clout to influence investment choices in ways that small investors can’t. And it is even more important that the world realize that time is running out to dial back the damage.

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