Disney shareholders

Cosmetic Changes at Disney and Vanguard Don’t Necessarily Signal ESG Retreat

The fight against ESG will be long and hard – and anyway is just the opening campaign in a much, much longer fight against the leftists’ takeover the of the social, cultural, educational and governmental power centers of western life.

Scott Shepard

Scott Shepard

The proponents of ESG have placed allies in high places throughout corporate America. They have taken over important functions almost completely. They have installed whole departments (see, e.g., Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and Sustainability offices) that exist primarily to push the two twin pillars of ESG – equity-based discrimination and political-schedule decarbonization – and that are staffed to capacity of Slack with people who don’t have many marketable skills other than forcing their wokeness on the companies where they work. They will fight like their careers depend on it – because they do – to keep ESG up and running, even as the courts rule equity-based discrimination to be as unconstitutional as the old kind, and as the chimera of net zero is increasingly revealed as nonsense “science” and anti-human lunacy.

Don’t, then, allow a few cosmetic changes to convince you that we’re winning. The battle has just started, and we’d better brace up in the spirit of John Paul Jones.

The most obvious example of change without (ESG-related) meaning is the Bob Swap at Disney. Bob Chapek is out as CEO, Bob Iger is back in. It was Chapek who picked the fight with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis by following the Human Rights Campaign and corporate media lies about the content of a Florida law that prohibited teachers from leading classroom discussions about sex or sex-identity confusion in primary school, calling it the “don’t say gay” bill (even though the bill itself never said gay, or any synonym of it).  But subbing Iger back in for Chapek no more made Disney less woke than would swapping out Prince Harry for Prince William make an institution less English. Rather, like the latter example, it merely rendered Disney’s executive suite less feckless, less gormless, and somehow even more smug.

After all, it was Iger who brought woke to Disney in the first place. It was under his management, which began in 2005 after he engineered a coup against Michael Eisner, that Disney bought and then destroyed the Star Wars franchise. It was under his guidance that Disney introduced the toxic model of “lead women so strong that they can have no flaws or fears, and so cannot be made interesting to audiences.”

Iger more-or-less forced Chapek’s missteps in the anti-grooming bill controversy, attacking him on television for failing to oppose the bill just weeks after he’d finally “retired” from Disney. (Chapek originally, and wisely, wanted to stay out of it. You know, like a company built on providing reliable entertainment to small children might want to do.)

Now that’s he’s returned, Iger is relying again on executives who made the woke mess in the first place. And while he has indicated that he will stay out of political fights, remember that he didn’t consider Disney’s lies about the Florida bill as political or partisan because according to him, it was “just a matter of right and wrong,” with indoctrinating and confusing little kids in public schools being the right thing to do.

Disney brought Iger back because it panicked and because Iger connived for it, not because it has recognized the error of running the company according to the far-left agenda.

The same is true – at least for the nonce – at Vanguard. Last week, it withdrew from the Net Zero Asset Managers initiative (NZAM), “an international group of asset managers committed to supporting the goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner, in line with global efforts to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius; and to supporting investing aligned with net zero emissions by 2050 or sooner.”

This move drew cheers from some Republican officials and wails of anguish from the more excitable elements of the climate-catastrophist crowd, claiming that Vanguard had fallen to the dark forces of anti-woke.

We wish. So far the withdrawal doesn’t mean much.

First, Vanguard didn’t act in accord with a slowly dawning realization that politicized decarbonization will be a disaster for all parties that partake of it (as Europe is learning to its dark, shivery cost). Rather, its hand was forced by an alliance of red-state financial officers and the Consumers Research organization, which petitioned the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to deny Vanguard the right to invest in public utilities because it had made a blanket commitment – inconsonant with its fiduciary duties to investors – to push for decarbonization on politicized schedules without regard to on-the-ground facts.

The withdrawal, then, doesn’t necessarily indicate that anything good has changed in Vanguard’s thinking. Vanguard’s own pronouncements suggest that nothing at all has changed.

After the withdrawal, Vanguard declared that “[w]e have decided to withdraw from NZAM so that we can provide the clarity our investors desire about the role of index funds and about how we think about material risks, including climate-related risks—and to make clear that Vanguard speaks independently on matters of importance to our investors.”

In declaring its independence, Vanguard was establishing that its decisions wouldn’t be driven by a commitment to an external organization. As to the content of those commitments, though,

[t]his change in NZAM membership status will not affect our commitment to helping our investors navigate the risks that climate change can pose to their long-term returns. We will continue to provide investors the information and products they need to make sound investment choices, including products designed to meet net zero objectives. We will continue to interact with companies held by Vanguard funds to understand how they address material risks, including climate risk, in the interests of long-term investors. And we will continue to publicly report on our efforts with respect to climate risk, grounded in our deep commitment to our investors and their financial well-being.

In other words, nothing meaningful at Vanguard is going to change – at least not yet, and not as a result of this withdrawal. Vanguard still considers climate change a “a clear example of a material and multifaceted financial risk,” and will continue to push companies to decarbonize. It will do this without having a word to say about the profound material risks that arise from decarbonizing according to schedules developed by the climate cranks who have called 50 of the last zero climate catastrophes; who refuse to acknowledge that “clean” energy is neither clean nor reliable; who ignore the fact that the rest of the world isn’t going to follow the West into carbonless suicide, making the whole exercise not only evil, but pointless; and so much else.

Three cheers to the state financial officials and Consumers Research for forcing Vanguard’s withdrawal, and one weak, half-hearted cheer (with a suppressed eye-roll) for Vanguard for withdrawing. Vanguard will only deserve at least one full-voiced cheer when it acknowledges, and then acts on, the “material and multifaceted financial risk” of decarbonizing before all is ready for a smooth shift to other energy sources without loss of power levels,reliability or affordability.

Even that great day, though, won’t even be, in Churchill’s immortal phrase, “the end of the beginning.” We’re still at the very beginning of the beginning, in a fight that will last perhaps for generations, until the left-wing takeover of so much of shared civil society has been reversed. It will be a hard and heavy fight.

But at least we’ve started.


Scott Shepard is a fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and Director of its Free Enterprise Project. This first appeared at RealClearMarkets.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.