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The BlackRock headquarters in NYC

"Beginning in 2019," the pranksters' letter says, "BlackRock resolves to use our considerable stake in energy and related sectors to vote in favor of management only when we find them to be working toward net zero carbon emissions by 2050." (Photo: eflon/flickr/cc)

In Hoax Letter Calling Out Climate Inaction, Pranksters Urge Asset Manager Behemoth to Ditch 'Zombie Funds of the Apocalypse'

BlackRock can either play "a game-changing role in shifting how every global corporation addresses climate change," or "continue with business as usual, funding these world destroyers and encouraging them to continue extracting and burning fossil fuels."

Andrea Germanos

Because "generating sustainable returns into the future requires that we have a future," the head of the world's biggest money manager, BlackRock, sent a letter Wednesday to investors saying it would start to consider as "sin stock" companies that fail to align their business models with the goals of the Paris climate accord.

Or so a group of climate-minded activists would have you believe.

The pledge to better address the climate crisis was not actually made by BlackRock chairman and CEO Larry Fink but by activists who say in their hoax letter that such a move would not only be economically wise but would help save the only planet we have.

"Everything called for in our fake letter are steps BlackRock could take while still remaining model capitalists," said fake letter co-author Jeff Walburn of the Yes Men—activists whose previous targets have included the DNC, Dow Chemical, and Pfizer. "These slightly less extinction-oriented moves would make more money for investors and ensure their customers have a stable economy to profit from down the line. This is hardly a radical push; but it's a push we need, for the sake of humanity's survival and, yes, its asset owners."

In the fake letter, sent to multiple news outlets—duping at least one—and posted to a website made to look like the real BlackRock site, Fink supposedly declares "that the biggest contributor to uncertainty is also the greatest threat to the long-term stability of our economy and our investors' assets: climate change. Companies must address climate risk factors or fail in their fiduciary duty."

"We spent much of 2018 mapping near-term climate risks that will affect municipal bonds and real estate, and we're going to scale that methodology across all of our investments," it states.

"We see the Paris agreement as an important framework for long-term sustainability. Despite denouncing the short-term thinking that pervades management, BlackRock's voting record has not aligned sufficiently with our own ideals. That's going to change," the fake letter says.

"Moving forward," the letter continues, "we will demand more accountability. We will require all companies we hold stakes in to align their business models with the goals of the Paris agreement. We have made strides in this direction, but the urgency of the threat demands that we increase our focus."

One of the "two strategic pivots" the letter announces is that within a five-year period, "more than 90 percent of our 1,000+ investment products will be converted to screen out non-Paris compliant companies such as coal, oil, and gas, which we see as declining and endangered."

In addition, the letter continues, "Beginning in 2019, BlackRock resolves to use our considerable stake in energy and related sectors to vote in favor of management only when we find them to be working toward net zero carbon emissions by 2050."

According to the Yes Men's Walburn, "This prefigurative nudge we gave BlackRock is the actual rational common-sense adjustment the finance industry needs; it's truly bananas to think large asset managers, with broad based investment products are creating Zombie Funds of the Apocalypse and leading us off the climate cliff."

BlackRock, which holds roughly $6 trillion in assets, "could fulfill its social purpose by playing a game-changing role in shifting how every global corporation addresses climate change. Or," Walburn suggested, "they and other asset managers can continue with business as usual, funding these world destroyers and encouraging them to continue extracting and burning fossil fuels. Larry Fink knows what to do, he just hasn't acted on it."

The hoax comes several days after a dozen shareholder advocacy groups including ShareAction and the Ethos Fund wrote a letter (pdf) to Fink in which they urged BlackRock to "publicly state their expectation that carbon intensive sectors move rapidly towards adopting business strategies compliant with the Paris goals and specifically in-line with limiting temperature increases as close as possible to 1.5 °C."

The letter to Fink went on to say that "BlackRock consistently votes against shareholder climate proposals and has a worse track-record than other large global asset managers in this regard. BlackRock also continues to vote for the reappointment of all directors at many companies that are failing to address climate risk."

The company's track record has been in the crosshairs of BlackRock's Big Problem, a coalition of organizations, which accuses BlackRock of contributing "more to climate change than almost any other company on Earth."

"As the world's biggest investor," the group says, "BlackRock is also the world's biggest owner of fossil fuel companies. BlackRock owns more coal, oil, and gas, and rainforest destruction than any other U.S. company."

Reacting to Blackrock's tweet on Wednesday assuring people that Fink's "real CEO letter" is forthcoming, BlackRock's Big Problem said, "We sure hope it's as bold on climate action as the hoax letter!"


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