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Between a Blackrock and a hard place

As a well-read consumer of the Times-Age, you’re no doubt familiar with the phrase, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.”

Leaving aside the sweeping, past-its-use-by-date slur on the population of Greece [referring as it does to that one time, over 3000 years ago, that a large wooden horse was left outside the gates of Troy, with less than ideal outcomes for the city’s inhabitants], these days it’s generally used as a reminder that apparent acts of charity may not always be as beneficial as they first appear.

In other words, in direct contradiction to another well-worn expression, it strongly suggests it’s advisable to look that gift horse in the mouth – and closely.

As such, it’s absolutely not an appropriate aphorism to bear in mind when considering yesterday’s announcement that BlackRock, Inc [the world’s largest asset manager, with $14.11 trillion in assets under management as of the end of last year], has committed $2 billion to a fund focused on making New Zealand the first country in the world with 100 per cent renewable electricity.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins exhibited an unqualified enthusiasm about the deal when he disclosed it, declaring himself “absolutely stoked” and going on to note “it’s proof of our ambitious climate targets having the world’s attention”.

And hey, what’s not to like about the development of a climate infrastructure fund that promises to support New Zealand businesses, help create more highly skilled local jobs, and accelerate green energy options like solar, wind, green hydrogen, and battery storage to fuel a low emissions economy? [You know, other than the odd “extremist” misgiving that we might be overcommitting to climate mitigation measures when we should be putting much more effort into adaptation.]

There’s certainly nothing sinister in the fact that, over the past few decades, asset managers like BlackRock have diversified their businesses beyond investing in financial assets like stocks and bonds and moved into buying up basic infrastructure that’s essential to our existence – “real assets” such as housing, schools, care homes, roads, farmland, and water-supply networks, so that all our lives are increasingly part of the investment portfolios of BlackRock, and asset managers of their ilk.

A sad cynic might quibble that unfettered global capitalism is the key contributor to environmental degradation and the apparently accelerating climate apocalypse, ignoring the obvious fact that this multinational leviathan is on the side of the angels, as evidenced by the way it’s using New Zealand as a trial run for – per BlackRock chief executive and chair Larry Fink – “models of co-operation between the private and public sectors to ensure an orderly, just, and fair energy transition”.

Never mind that the mega asset manager’s first [and really only] priority is increasing the profits of its shareholders.

Or that BlackRock is one of the primary engine rooms of the planet’s widening wealth gap.

Ignore the nearly $427 billion it has invested in fossil fuels.

Avert your eyes from the infrastructure fund it recently established with the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, that beacon of human rights.

Just focus on Chippy’s chirpy assurance that “big opportunities for New Zealand lie in our climate leadership”.

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