Greta and Larry: At the Crossroad of Climate and Capitalism

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Two profoundly important movements are growing and converging. The first is the global uprising against the status quo of our rapidly deteriorating climate. The second is a corporate uprising of sorts where company CEOs are being asked to break the sacred code of capitalism:  “maximizing shareholder value.” 

One movement has taken to the streets. The other is taking place in the increasingly anxious statements from corporate boardrooms.   

The first movement is led by a 16-year-old activist from Sweden, Greta Thunberg, who like Beyonce or Prince, is now simply known as Greta. The other’s leader? None other than the firebrand CEO of the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock’s Lawrence Fink, known as Larry.

Both Larry and Greta have taken on a cult-like status. But both could also be excused for being a bit taken aback by the power of their words. Emily Atkin, in her smart new climate newsletter, Heated, was recently behind the scenes on Capitol Hill with the climate wunderkind. She reported that Greta was ‘obviously tired,’ sitting in a dark leather chair, “hunched over a stack of papers in her lap.” Larry probably never thought his 2018 Letter to CEO’s that asked  - others say instructed - CEOs to think about social purpose, would morph into a corporate re-appraisal of capitalism. 

Two weeks ago the uber corporate Business Roundtable published a statement signed by 181 CEO’s acknowledging that shareholders would now have to share the stage with all stakeholders - customers, employees, suppliers, and communities. This week the Financial Times called for a “capitalist reset.”  

So here we are - once again. Shaggy climate activists squaring off against business-casual capitalists. The trust gap between both movements is huge. Behind the scenes, corporate executives roll their eyes over Greta. And if the brightly painted signs at this week’s climate ‘strikes’ were any indicator of marcher sentiment, the only things less popular than capitalism were Donald Trump and the ‘carbon industry.’

We are delighted to be at the crossroad of climate and capital because there must be a recognition that climate change is not going to be solved without the help of a vibrant capital market and an understanding that climate change’s tightening grip on the invisible hand of capitalism is beginning to feel like Donald Trump’s hand after meeting French Premier Emmanuel Macron.

 At Climate & Capital, we understand we are on a tightrope. So we can only promise to do our best as we look-out for great climate stories that demonstrate the energy and positive social value of entrepreneurship, wealth creation and free markets. But, it is also incumbent on us to look for the wash in greenwash and hold companies accountable for their actions. 

We expect our readers to keep us accountable.