One rich American, CEO Stephen Schwarzman, is responsible for much of the ongoing destruction of the Amazon — and he happens to be a top donor to President Trump and Mitch McConnell
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In climate change news and current events today, the Amazon rainforest fire is still raging and Ryan Grim is breaking down how CEO Stephen Schwarzman contributed to the destruction of the Amazon.
Grim: So it turns out that *one guy* is behind a significant amount of the carnage that we’re seeing in the Amazon rainforest. His name is Stephen Schwarzman. He's a top donor to President Trump and Mitch McConnell, and he's the CEO of Blackstone, a huge U.S. investment firm. I reported at The Intercept that Schwarzman and his company Blackstone have helped facilitate a boom in agribusiness in the Amazon. They’re doing this by financing a transit port and a commercial highway that runs deep into the rainforest. Those projects make it much easier and more profitable for farming and mining companies to export goods from the area. The resulting agribusiness surge is driving the destruction of the Amazon, as more rainforest is being burned to make room for growing grain or soybeans. When I asked Blackstone about the work they financed, they made the argument that, actually, it’s good for the environment, because the port allows farm exports to be transported to other places by boat instead of on trucks, which cuts carbon emissions.
“Blackstone is committed to responsible environmental stewardship… [W]e know the company has made a significant reduction in overall carbon emissions through lower congestion and allowed the more efficient flow of agricultural goods by Brazilian farmers.”
Blackstone statement to The Intercept
And yes, great, that’s true, but it also reveals the self-destructive insanity of the capitalist view of the world. To firms like Blackstone, the only question is how grain from the Amazon can be exported more efficiently -- not whether the Amazon should be destroyed to make way for agribusiness. On the other side of the debate is everybody who’s worried about our continued ability to support life on this planet. The Amazon needs to be preserved in order to stave off a climate apocalypse, and developing the region with ports and highways undermines that. And it’s not even profitable in the longterm. The farms created by destroying the Amazon can only grow crops for about 10-15 years before they turn into equatorial desert, and new land needs to be cleared. But it’s all about short-term profits. Stephen Schwarzman is one of the world's richest men. In 2018, he was paid at least $568 million dollars, which was actually a drop from the $786 million he made the year before. He’s given over $10 million to Mitch McConnell’s super PAC since 2016, and he hosted a 100,000-dollar-a-plate fundraiser for Trump, who’s a close friend.
Meanwhile, his company Blackstone now has more than $500 billion in assets under management. That’s an absurd amount of money for one firm to have, and it’s been able to grow to that size thanks to policy choices that the U.S. has made, largely with its tax code, to encourage the rapid accumulation of capital, and to privilege investment funds like Blackstone.
Those massive pools of private capital need projects to invest in, and torching the Amazon to convert it to temporary farmland before it becomes desert is as good as any other. So while I’ve been critical of Blackstone, the real problem is that companies like Blackstone are allowed to exist. And Blackstone is well aware of that, which is why they pump so much money into the political system, and particularly into the coffers of McConnell and Trump.
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