Don’t Retweet Lloyd Blankfein

Goldman Sachs CEOs are not your friends—even if they believe in climate change.

Kate Aronoff June 2, 2017

"He ran under this fake populism promising to get rid of Goldman and the 1% while doing the complete opposite," Renata Pumarol, deputy director of New York Communities for Change, says about Donald Trump. (NYCC)

Don’t retweet Lloyd Blank­fein, the CEO of Gold­man Sachs. Just don’t. It’s so easy!

"If there is a pragmatic case to be made that the transitioning off of fossil fuels is economically prudent (and there is!), then business leaders will chase those profits. In the meantime, let’s not applaud them or other billionaires for believing in a scientific consensus or trying to make money off of it."

Thurs­day, Blank­fein fired up his long-dor­mant Twit­ter account to express sup­port for the Paris Agree­ment. Here’s what his post said: Today’s deci­sion is a set­back for the envi­ron­ment and for the U.S.’s lead­er­ship posi­tion in the world. #Paris­Agree­ment.”

On the whole, that’s not a bad tweet! The Paris Agree­ment, while deeply flawed, is gen­er­al­ly a pos­i­tive and even momen­tous step in the world of cli­mate pol­i­cy, and we would all be bet­ter off if our walk­ing train wreck of a pres­i­dent hadn’t announced that he was pulling us out of it. Blank­fein, mean­while, played a cen­tral role in careen­ing the Unit­ed States into a crip­pling finan­cial cri­sis from which many have not recov­ered. He made more than $54 mil­lion at his job in 2006even as he was help­ing to cre­ate the reces­sion. His bank also hap­pens to be a financier of the Dako­ta Access Pipeline, which oil began cours­ing through this week despite sev­er­al safe­ty haz­ards and out­stand­ing legal chal­lenges. In oth­er words, Blank­fein is the worst, and no one should help Gold­man Sachs with its PR by retweet­ing its CEO.

But the real point isn’t that Blank­fein is scum — though he is. It’s that sid­ing with Blank­fein and oth­er 1 per­centers” is a polit­i­cal­ly sui­ci­dal move for the cli­mate move­ment to make in 2017 and could sab­o­tage any hope the Unit­ed States has of imple­ment­ing any sort of ade­quate cli­mate poli­cies before it’s too late.

Envi­ron­men­tal­ists have tra­di­tion­al­ly had trou­ble not turn­ing celebri­ties and bil­lion­aires into heroes, mak­ing peo­ple like Al Gore and Leonar­do DiCaprio some of the most rec­og­niz­able faces in the fight against ris­ing tides. A sim­i­lar spir­it arose Thurs­day, with orga­ni­za­tions like the Nat­ur­al Resources Defense Coun­cil prais­ing Blankfein’s tweet. Sev­er­al major oil com­pa­nies even joined in on the fun of endors­ing the agree­ment, despite the fact that they’re sell­ing a prod­uct that could turn the plan­et into a hellscape.

Cli­mate change is being paint­ed by the right as an issue that only elites and a hand­ful of rad­i­cal left­ists care about. Near­ly every poll con­duct­ed on the issue shows that this is patent­ly false. But greens prais­ing Blank­fein help the Steve Ban­nons of the world make their case for them.

For one, these peo­ple do not actu­al­ly care about slow­ing cli­mate change. Part of the rea­son why oil giants like Exxon and Chevron and Shell like the Paris Agree­ment so much is that it con­tains some weak lan­guage. Get­ting behind it, for them, is an easy way to look like they care about the plan­et and the peo­ple liv­ing on it with­out actu­al­ly doing the thing that would serve the plan­et best: Clos­ing their doors entire­ly. Sym­bol­ic state­ments about the Paris Agree­ment, whether you’re an oil com­pa­ny or a bank­ing giant, are just good PR.

Still, there’s a cer­tain log­ic behind lift­ing up these 1 per­centers: Envi­ron­men­tal issues have long sat in a fringe silo, and one of the Unit­ed States’ two rul­ing par­ties is doing every­thing in its pow­er to make earth unliv­able. Peo­ple like Gore and DiCaprio bring a kind of main­stream appeal. Vast swaths of the Amer­i­can pub­lic know who they are even if they can’t name a sin­gle envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion, and — if they can use their star pow­er to help spread the gospel on cli­mate change — the mes­sage will reach more peo­ple. A sim­i­lar line of think­ing extends to busi­ness lead­ers: If the peo­ple greens want to con­vince to pur­sue action on cli­mate change are elites (busi­ness lead­ers, politi­cians, etc.) mak­ing it clear that their peers are tak­ing steps toward sus­tain­abil­i­ty should be a pow­er­ful incen­tive to get onboard.

Now, more than ever, though, that approach is painful­ly out of touch with an Amer­i­can polit­i­cal cli­mate in which peo­ple across the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum are rail­ing against estab­lish­ment pol­i­tics and economics.

Trump’s speech this week helps show us why retweet­ing Blank­fein is such a bad idea. The Rose Gar­den announce­ment leaned heav­i­ly on a cou­ple of tropes about cli­mate change invent­ed by the right, and adopt­ed with aplomb by the Ban­non and Bre­it­bart wing of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. The White House paint­ed the deci­sion to with­draw from the agree­ment as a defense of America’s for­got­ten” men and women against a glob­al­ist plot, call­ing it a scheme cooked up by the world’s elites to effect a mas­sive redis­tri­b­u­tion of Unit­ed States wealth to oth­er countries.”

The Paris Agree­ment hand­i­caps the Unit­ed States econ­o­my in order to win praise from the very for­eign cap­i­tals and glob­al activists that have long sought to gain wealth at our country’s expense,” Trump gar­bled. They don’t put Amer­i­ca first. I do, and I always will … It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio, Detroit, Michi­gan, and Pitts­burgh, Penn­syl­va­nia … before Paris, France.”

This is non­sen­si­cal, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing the Paris Agree­ment itself has vir­tu­al­ly noth­ing to with Paris oth­er than the fact that it was draft­ed there. Yet the president’s state­ment draws (read: fab­ri­cates) some pret­ty clear polit­i­cal lines: Hard-work­ing, down-on-their-luck Amer­i­cans ver­sus a cabal of elites out to screw them over. In this con­text, prais­ing the 1 per­centers who dis­agree with Trump may not be the best way to erode the per­cep­tion that only wealthy peo­ple care about cli­mate change.

There’s also lit­er­al­ly no rea­son to do this. If there is a prag­mat­ic case to be made that the tran­si­tion­ing off of fos­sil fuels is eco­nom­i­cal­ly pru­dent (and there is!), then busi­ness lead­ers will chase those prof­its. In the mean­time, let’s not applaud them or oth­er bil­lion­aires for believ­ing in a sci­en­tif­ic con­sen­sus or try­ing to make mon­ey off of it.

Kate Aronoff is a Brook­lyn-based jour­nal­ist cov­er­ing cli­mate and U.S. pol­i­tics, and a con­tribut­ing writer at The Inter­cept. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @katearonoff.
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