The Amazon rainforest is still on fire. Last week, demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of protesters took place in New York City to mark the annual U.N. Climate Action Summit, calling attention to the grave issue of climate change and, in particular, the Amazon fires’ devastating consequences. The New York youth-led strike on Sept. 20 drew upward of 250,000 protesters and featured representatives from indigenous nations across the Americas — including Brazil — who spoke about the urgency of environmental preservation given the life-or-death stakes for their people. The fires, which are concentrated in Brazil, pose a grave threat to local indigenous inhabitants, millions of acres of trees, rich wildlife and the global oxygen supply. These fires were not a result of rising temperatures, an unkempt forest brush or lightning strikes; they were deliberate acts of arson. And one of the most prominent financiers of those arsonists sits on NYU’s Board of Trustees.
Laurence Fink, a member of the NYU Board of Trustees and the co-chair of the NYU Langone Health Board of Trustees, is also the billionaire CEO of BlackRock, the world’s largest investment management firm. BlackRock is actively contributing to Amazon deforestation by investing billions of dollars in oil, mining and big agribusinesses, including massive soy-exporting corporations Archer Daniels Midland Company and Bunge. Under Fink’s leadership, his firm has become a major stakeholder in these corporations which are devoted to environmental destruction in Brazil, where the fires have ravaged 2.3 million acres of the Amazon. According to research conducted by the Amazon Watch, a nonprofit watchdog and environmental protection organization, BlackRock holds over $2.5 billion of shares in all publicly traded agribusinesses, including over 5% of available shares in ADM and Bunge. Just last year, Bunge was fined millions of dollars by the government for purchasing soy from land that was explicitly embargoed for illegal deforestation.
BlackRock has also sunk its claws into the notoriously toxic meatpacking business, one of the most rampant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. According to researchers at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, cattle ranching is “the largest driver of deforestation in every Amazon country, accounting for 80 percent of current deforestation rates.” Brazilian corporation JBS South America, the largest meatpacking company in the world, has been caught several times in recent years sourcing its beef from cattle ranchers engaging in illegal deforestation. JBS is overrun by corruption, but investment firms and food production companies alike continue to fatten their pockets as millions of trees in the Amazon are set ablaze or bulldozed. BlackRock holds over $200 million in JBS stock, and it increased its stake in JBS by $41 million in just two years, even amidst these corruption scandals.
Fink himself has profited handsomely from the profits reaped by BlackRock from these dirty investments. As of April 2018, his net worth is $1 billion — $570 million of which comes directly from his stake in BlackRock. Ironically, Fink has been dubbed “the conscience of Wall Street” and wrote in his annual letter to CEOs that businesses must make “a positive contribution to society” and be leaders for social good in a divided world. It is easy for billionaires to preach about philanthropy when in the spotlight, but what truly matters is their actions. Fink’s actions include allotting billions of dollars towards investments in corporations burning and deforesting the Amazon.
Large corporations are the main contributors to climate change, from Big Oil to Big Ag. This instance, however, hits closer to home. Fink is a billionaire who, unbeknownst to many NYU students, is a major decision-maker for the university and is simultaneously contributing to the man-made climate disaster threatening our planet’s existence. Accountability starts with each of us. As students mobilize across the country to fight for environmental justice, it is now the responsibility of the NYU student body to be aware of and hold accountable Fink and the university’s leadership for their complicity in ecological destruction. Meanwhile, the Amazon burns on.
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