Feeling the Heat

words by Willow Defebaugh

Welcome to The Overview, a weekly newsletter in which Editor-in-Chief Willow Defebaugh offers an expansive look at the latest events in climate and culture—and how it all fits together.

Fire is alchemic. It alters matter. Changes chemical compounds. For better or worse, fire transforms.


This week, BlackRock announced a new climate-focused strategy that will see the world’s largest financial firm begin to exit investments in coal production, put forward new funds that ban fossil fuel stocks, and actively move against corporations that aren’t making climate progress.


Make no mistake, this is only a first step—one of many that need to occur for there to truly be “a fundamental reshaping of finance” around climate as CEO Larry Fink has suggested. But BlackRock holds roughly a tenth of all of the world’s finances, so its capacity to instigate that change should not be overlooked. And in the past couple months, Goldman Sachs, Liberty Mutual, and the Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc., have also introduced new climate policies, while the European Investment Bank (the world’s biggest international public bank) declared that it will cease lending money to fossil-fuel projects period.


So why now? Well, first there is the heat that the entire world is feeling right now: the flames engulfing Australia, its smoke that has now reached our stratosphere, and the white hot rage that kindles when we take a moment to stop and reconcile that entire species may be wiped out before our eyes.


And then there is the heat being placed on those fueling the climate crisis, which is only increasing. Climate activists have been specifically targeting BlackRock offices over the course of the last few months. In London, some protesters glued themselves to the building’s doors, while others dropped piles of wood ash, meant to symbolize our burning lungs. While it’s easy to be cynical and focus on how much more needs to happen and how much has been lost already, it’s important that we celebrate the victories—and make no mistake, this is a victory that is owed to activism.


“BlackRock’s new initiatives match the size of the crisis we’re seeing in 2020 and are the direct result of an outpouring of pressure from the global climate movement,” said Diana Best, senior strategist for the Sunrise Project, the group of activists best known for pushing the Green New Deal forward.


Speaking of turning up the heat, after the news broke that 2019 was the second-hottest year on record, the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity put forward its 30 by 30 framework, which aims to protect 30% of the planet by 2030. “If adopted, this target could achieve what our children have been calling on governments to do—listen to the science,” explorer Eric Sala said of the initiative. “If we are to stay below 1.5°C, [to] prevent the extinction of one million species and the collapse of our life support system, we need to protect our intact wilderness, and ensure at least 30% of your land and oceans are protected by 2030. But this is the floor, not the ceiling.”


Nothing in nature is inherently good or bad: these are qualities determined by conscious intent. Fire has the power to burn our world to the ground, and if we continue to create the conditions for it to do so, then it will. But fire also has the power to ignite and spread change. It can be used to light a new way forward.

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