In Kim Stanley Robinson’s recent climate change novel, New York 2140, New York City has been devastated by rising seas: The Atlantic Ocean has inundated Brooklyn and Queens, and lower Manhattan now lies in the shallows at high tide. Downtown real estate has become physically unstable and economically volatile. But as new construction technologies stabilize some structures, residents priced out of the dry quarters uptown are moving back to the soggy old neighborhood. A hedge-fund manager named Franklin, a main character, has developed a successful index to evaluate the investment risk of “intertidal” real estate, the cheap but unstable property on the flood-ravaged coasts.
It’s a brilliantly conceived vision of one likely outcome of the climate crisis: an Armageddon, but not for everyone. What if New York dies, but Wall Street survives? What if the ravages of climate change amount, for some, to just another bet?
BlackRock, the world’s largest money management firm, with over $6 trillion in assets, certainly intends to soldier on. Anticipating that climate change will provoke a “fundamental reshaping of finance,” BlackRock’s chairman, Laurence Fink, recently announced a new policy to make “sustainability” a central factor in evaluating investments. In a letter to investors published on the firm’s website, Fink wrote that “the investment risks presented by climate change are set to accelerate a significant reallocation of capital, which will in turn have a profound impact on the pricing of risk and assets around the world.” The move has received mixed responses, both from the financial press and from climate activists. The New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote that such a move from a firm of BlackRock’s size “could reshape how corporate America does business,” while others were more circumspect. An investor in Barron’s observed skeptically that BlackRock is still the world’s largest investor in fossil fuels, with over $19 billion in Exxon stock alone, as well as large interests in Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and BP.
Some climate activists have cautiously welcomed BlackRock’s announcement, seeing it as the fruit of a long campaign to pressure the firm to divest from companies contributing to climate change and thereby bring greater pressure to bear on responsible corporations and governments. BlackRocksBigProblem.com, a website critical of the firm and produced by a coalition of environmental groups like the Sunrise Movement and the Sierra Club, had a mixed response to the news. “This announcement is a major shift for BlackRock,” its statement read, “which previously had failed to take meaningful action on climate, and is a very important step in the right direction as the world faces increasing risk from climate change.”