Just because you’re an heir to an oil industry fortune doesn’t mean you necessarily approve of the family business. Take Aileen Getty, for example: heiress to the famous Getty family fortune, she’s donated a reported $1 million to and helped to establish the Climate Emergency Fund (the same organization that counts filmmaker Adam McKay among its board members). Now, the CEF is making headlines because one of the groups it provided a grant to, Just Stop Oil, was the one behind the infamous van Gogh/tomato soup protest at the National Gallery in London.
One of the stated goals of the Climate Emergency Fund is to provoke action on climate change through non-violent civil disobedience by providing funding grants to grassroots organizations that share that goal. Whatever your feeling on splattering a masterpiece of art (which was protected by a glass covering, it should be pointed out), it certainly falls under that category. As reported by Mother Jones, Just Stop Oil is the biggest recipient of CEF funds this year, receiving $1.1 million out of a total $4 million in grants dispersed to dozens of climate organizations across the world.
Getty is a co-founder of the CEF, which is interesting given how much of her wealth can be traced back to the oil business. Her grandfather was Jean Paul Getty, who during the 1960s was considered not only the richest person in the world but perhaps the richest person in human history. The Getty family has not been in the oil business since the early 2000s, and Aileen herself was never involved, but it’s clear she’s interested in “giving back” to try and reverse some of the damage she sees as having been wrought by oil tycoons like her grandfather over the last century and a half.
Getty’s connection with the CEF has invited plenty of controversy, with some characterizing her as a wealthy hobbyist funding glorified vandalism, and others accusing her of intentionally discrediting climate activists with operations like the van Gogh one due as a sort of oil industry double agent. Getty herself responded to the controversy in a Guardian op-ed, characterizing her position like this:
“I am the daughter of a famous family who built their fortune on fossil fuels – but we now know that the extraction and use of fossil fuels is killing life on our planet. Our family sold that company four decades ago, and I instead vowed to use my resources to take every means to protect life on Earth.”
The Getty family fortune is currently under the control of Gordon Getty, who has a net worth of some $2.1 billion.