GETTING OUT AND GETTING INTO CLIMATE
Growing up, I was a science-fiction-reading couch potato until a friend enlisted me in a scout troop that was serious about hiking. We made our own frame packs and went for 50 miles at a time. I really got into the outdoors.
Years later when my son was in an outdoor program, there wasn’t enough money to rent canoes, so we raised money and solved that problem. I went to the city and said, “This issue isn’t going away.” They said, “How would you like to be the executive director?” Like a lot of things in my life, I said okay without really knowing what I was getting into.
That work connected me to the energy of young leaders. The students led workshops for kids with stories about human impacts on the environment. Then Al Gore came out with An Inconvenient Truth, and it all snowballed for me.
In high school in the 60’s, I was aware of protests. My friend and I would put on Country Joe and the Fish—vinyl of course—and sing the “Fixin’ to Die Rag:”
Yeah, c’mon on all you big strong men
Uncle Sam needs your help again
He’s got himself in a terrible jam
Way down yonder in Vietnam
So put down your books and pick up a gun
We’re gonna have a whole lot of fun
And it’s 1, 2, 3, what’re we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn
Next stop is Vietnam
I knew people who were getting drafted, going to Vietnam, getting shot at, and killed. So that was the backdrop for my understanding of protest—if there’s something you think needs to be changed, you bring it to the public forum.
TAKING ACTION NOW
Now it’s a different ball game. Serious financial people are designing big capital strategies and figuring out what kind of pressure we can bring to maximize change.
The people I’ve met through BlackRock’s Big Problem and other networks are committed. Their thinking is global and strategic. We’re not just carrying flags in the street. We’re going after big asset managers and getting them to go after corporations. It’s clear that there’s a lot of work to do, but people are approaching change differently and getting results.
I tend to be single-minded about finding out who’s involved, what they’re doing, and what’s effective, so I’ve learned a lot about climate finance from people who are deeply embedded in the financial industry and who aren’t corrupted by greed. I found my people and said, “Okay what are we doing next?” It hadn’t occurred to me that there were those kinds of levers.
TAKING IT TO THE STREET
I have to admit that I’m attracted to something that involves wearing a costume, and I really got into making a big school bus with Larry Fink, BlackRock’s CEO, in the driver’s seat. I like the theater and creativity of drawing attention to the problem—the outside game of stirring up attention.
TALKING TRUTH TO POWER
I had my two minutes at the mic at a big shareholder meeting in 2019 and helped bring our message to decision-makers—in this case the CEO of a huge, dirty utility company. He was a really smooth talker. Anyone from the outside would have thought, “These are really a swell bunch of guys. They’re doing a lot for the environment.” Meanwhile, they’re building pipelines hand-over-fist.
I showed him there’s a movement that’s serious about combating climate change, and we’re expecting corporations to do something about it: “We’re paying attention. We don’t like what you’re doing. We’re not going away.”
With other activists who continue to oppose corporations that are destroying the climate, I filed another shareholder proposal for the 2022 annual general meeting.
Every day, I see people in the news adamantly opposing the change we need to make. I have to step back, take a deep breath, and say, “I’m going to keep taking action.”
Even the small tasks help—a simple thing like keeping our calendar updated. I think, “Maybe I’m getting someone else involved.” All of these actions are working, so staying engaged helps me to keep up my own momentum.
We do what we can when we can. It’s not about committing 15 hours a week or you can’t be involved, or it doesn’t matter. You can join an action and get a quick hit. You can feel good, and then go back to work.
I get energy from all the people I’ve met who keep showing that we’re really not going away. When I get on Zoom calls, I see who these people are—they’re sharp, engaged, and enthusiastic.
It helps me that there are young people involved. They see that bowling ball coming. It’s their future. Sure, it’s mine too, but it matters to me that young people care about it and will keep at it. Their votes helped elect our new mayor who’s making climate a very big deal. They also care about housing, education, and social justice. There’s momentum there.
Regular people can make change if we’re willing to be persistent. Repeated, consistent actions say we’re not a flash in the pan, we’re not going away. Being part of that steady pressure on BlackRock has helped me feel like I’m creating change in a huge asset manager. Our recurring theme week-to-week is what are we going to do next?
The next step is to get more people—to say not only are we not going away, but there are going to be more of us. That’s how you make real change.