Bill McKibben has some unkind words for Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock, which is the largest asset manager on Earth with $8.59 trillion in assets under its control. Two years ago, Fink caused a ripple in the investment community after the COP 26 climate talks in Glasgow when he said, “We are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance” to deal with the climate crisis. He also pushed for the election of people to the board of ExxonMobil who were opposed by that company’s management team. Yay, Larry Fink!
The great awakening in Glasgow led to a spate of pledges from asset managers around the world to put more emphasis on environmental, sustainability, and governance goals when making investment decisions, a pledge that has caused Republicans to lose their sh*t over such “woke” policies. In actuality, the financial community started walking back their ESG pledges almost as soon as they made them.
Bill McKibben Slams BlackRock
Serial climate activist Bill McKibben has news for those of us who like to think that the investment community has finally seen the light and is prepared to do the right thing. He is, frankly, horrified to report that this week, while heat records are being set seemingly everywhere on Earth, BlackRock has decided to add the CEO of Saudi Aramco to its board of directors. Saudi Aramco happens to be responsible for more carbon emissions than any corporation in human history.
For those who need a reminder, humanity has added the heat equivalent to 25 billion atomic bombs of the type dropped on Hiroshima in the past 50 years from burning fossil fuels. No wonder the Earth has gotten so hot!
McKibben proclaims that this is the ultimate signal that the world’s financial community has decided to give up on even the modest commitments they made a couple of years ago in Glasgow, where they said they would work to decarbonize their portfolios.
He points to two factors that may have changed the calculus for investment managers like BlackRock. First, the war in Ukraine has produced enormous profits for the fossil fuel industry. All that money sloshing around means fat profits for those who are asked to manage it. Given a choice between making money and taking the high road, the companies have simply caved to their baser instincts. After all, the Larry Finks of the world hardly need to worry about rising seas or hotter temperatures. They can buy all the relief from the stresses of an overheating planet they will ever need.
Second, the fossil fuel crowd called in their trained seals — the politicians they bought and paid for in states controlled by the Red Team — and got them to say nasty things about “ESG investing” and pass laws to punish Wall Street firms for “going woke.”
McKibben says, “Those two developments were more than enough to persuade barons like Fink to walk back their professed concern with a planet on fire. He is clearly a go-along get-along guy, and where we’re going is — well, if not hell then someplace with a similar temperature. It’s gross when the PGA does business with the murderous Saudi regime. It’s life or death for everyone when the biggest business in the world sucks up to the biggest oil company.”
Brad Lander Steps Up
Few in financial circles have spoken publicly about the unprecedented string of record breaking temperatures afflicting much of the world this summer. One person who has is Brad Lander, the comptroller of New York City. It’s not a sexy job, McKibben says. He’s just the money guy who balances the city’s books. “But New York City has a lot of money, and that money gives you the power to do useful things that help people. When it got unbearably hot, Lander put out a video pointing out that the big banks the city does business with were still bankrolling the fossil fuel industry. It is straightforward, powerful, plainspoken.”
And a few days later, when the Saudi Aramco news came out, Lander was one of the only public people in the financial sector to react.
“Blackrock has clearly stated that climate risk is an investment risk, but actions speak louder than words. At a time when financial institutions need to take a collective approach to addressing the financial risks from climate change, Blackrock shareholders expect climate-competent, not climate-conflicted, directors.” This matters, McKibben says, because Blackrock is the largest external money manager for the city of New York. “Lander can move that business and it will hurt Blackrock; and his words will at least be heard in the din of Wall Street.”
McKibben Lauds LA Times Editorial Board
Bill McKibben points out that the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times also weighed in on the gathering climate crisis recently. It made its position clear last week in no uncertain terms in an editorial entitled, “Hoping fossil fuel giants will see the light on climate hasn’t worked. Change only comes with mandates and force.”
“It should be obvious by now that fossil fuel companies have no real plans to change in response to the climate crisis. And that the only way forward is without them.
“Some high profile environmental leaders have come to a similar conclusion recently, among them influential climate negotiator Christiana Figueres, under whose tenure as executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change the landmark 2015 Paris agreement was developed. She wrote in Al Jazeera earlier this month that after years of holding out hope that oil and gas companies would wake up and participate in the decarbonization of the economy, their actions over the last 12 months have changed her mind.
“Former Vice President Al Gore, a longtime champion for climate action, has also been speaking with refreshing frankness about fossil fuel industry obstruction, decrying ‘anti-climate plotting’ by companies that refuse to disclose their emissions or commit to phasing them out while they successfully push government policies to slow down the transition to clean energy.
“It’s a little late for powerful voices from older generations to come to the realization that fossil fuel companies aren’t operating in good faith and will fight climate action until the bitter end. But it’s welcome nonetheless, and there’s clear generational shift in that direction that offers some hope. Polling last year by the Pew Research Center found that while most Americans are reluctant to ditch fossil fuels, younger adults are much more supportive of phasing out oil, gas and coal entirely.”
Last week, we reported on Christiana Figueres, the climate advocate from Costa Rica who was largely responsible for the 2015 Paris climate accord. She is shocked and saddened by how the fossil fuel industry refuses to accept its role in turning the Earth into a baked potato and take meaningful steps to pivot to clean energy technologies.
“Remember what the industry could and should be doing with those trillions of dollars: stepping away from any new oil and gas exploration, investing heavily into renewable energies and accelerating carbon capture and storage technologies to clean up existing fossil fuel use. Also, cutting methane emissions from the entire production line, abating emissions along their value chain and facilitating access to renewable energy for those still without electricity who number in their millions,” she wrote.
“Instead, what we see is international oil companies cutting back, slowing down or, at best, painfully maintaining their decarbonization commitments, paying higher dividends to shareholders, buying back more shares and — in some countries — lobbying governments to reverse clean energy policies while paying lip service to change.”
That Robert Kennedy Speech
Bill McKibben highlights a speech given by Robert F. Kennedy at the University of Kansas shortly before he was assassinated. In it, Kennedy said:
“America’s gross national product is over $800 billion dollars a year. It includes air pollution and cigarette advertising, as well as special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.
“Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate, or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.”
We have heard it from RFK. We have heard it from Christiana Figueres. We have heard it from George Carlin. We have heard it from the scientists who calculate how fossil fuels have added the heat of 25 billion atomic bombs to the Earth’s environment in the past 50 years. Fossil fuels, which did so much to bring some measure of prosperity to so many human beings, are now rapidly degrading our environment to the point where life will be impossible for billions of people in the very near future.
There was a time when we thought asbestos was a miracle substance, until we learned it caused lethal lung disease. Then we stopped using it. We once thought fluorocarbons were the answer to cooling our homes and offices, until we learned they damaged the ozone layer. Then we stopped using them. We once thought fossil fuels were essential to a civilized society, but now we know they threaten our very existence. And yet we continue to rely on them, even though there are non-lethal alternatives.
The fault is not in our stars, dear Brutus, but in our insistence on using an economic model that takes no account of the costs of the waste products created by extracting, processing, and burning fossil fuels. That has to change if we are to have any hope of preserving the Earth as a place that supports human life.
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