BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, announced Tuesday it would now consider sustainability and climate change when making decisions with its nearly $7 trillion in investments. This decision doesn’t undo a legacy of environmental destruction and its announcement is full of half measures and caveats. We should be arresting BlackRock’s executives, not lauding them.
This comes after years of dragging its feet on addressing its fossil fuel investments: BlackRock has not only profited from being the largest investor in coal worldwide (companies and mines), but blocked attempts by its polluter investments to create meager emissions targets or even create “scenario planning” for climate change.
"Awareness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance," Laurence Fink, founder and CEO of BlackRock, wrote in the letter. "The evidence on climate risk is compelling investors to reassess core assumptions about modern finance."
While this is a welcome development from Fink's position just last year ("Our decisions are driven solely by our fiduciary duty to our clients"), it doesn’t erase decades of enabling and profiting from the companies that are destroying the Earth. And it’s still a half measure: BlackRock says it will simply now assess climate-related risk from a financial perspective, and that it will be “making sustainability integral to portfolio construction and risk management.” In practice, BlackRock will still remain one of the world’s largest investors in fossil fuel companies: “We need to be mindful of the economic, scientific, social and political realities of the energy transition.“
What will BlackRock do with the untold billions it has made from companies responsible for climate change? How aggressively will it pursue sustainable investments? What happens to medium sustainability-related risk investments? Will it invest in projects to repair the damage it has made a killing off of? What does divestment look like?
For years, protesters have asked similar questions because of BlackRock's commitment to profit at the expense of the Earth and its inhabitants. Its investments accelerate not only climate change but ecological decay and collapse: deforestation, air and water pollution, and declining biodiversity all have adverse effects on humans today and for generations to come. Is BlackRock’s new investment strategy going to address the damage it has already wrought?
It does not seem likely any of these questions will likely be addressed in any substantive way because, as Fink insisted in an interview with the New York Times, the decision was a business one: "We are fiduciaries," Fink told The Times. "Politics isn't part of this."
The problem is that how we deal with climate change is inherently a political question. Climate change, even in the best-case scenarios, will be responsible for the deaths and displacement of hundreds of millions of people and an untold number of plants and animals.
BlackRock chose to make its investments decades after climate change and its effects were well known to scientists, chose to block attempts by its companies to reduce their role in emissions, and chose to preserve its investments for decades all in the name of profit.
BlackRock doesn’t deserve praise for choosing an investment strategy that centers climate change, it deserves a trial for its role in these crimes against humanity and the Earth. This world is marred with scars inflicted by the business models championed by BlackRock for decades.
Real divestment is not whatever BlackRock is doing, although its move is at least better than maintaining the status quo. Real divestment begins with a trial and continues forward with moves to takeover extractive companies, wind them down, provide for their workers, provide for the communities they’ve extracted labor and resources from, and make amends with the Earth.