Ye gods, but this blog has been bleak of late. Let’s look at some good news, and it comes from one of this blog’s favorite group of people…the investor class!
No, but for real. From The Guardian…
Investors managing more than $2.5tn have warned oil firms and banks to shun moves by the US president, Donald Trump, to open the Arctic national wildlife refuge (ANWR) to drilling.
Companies extracting oil and gas from the wilderness area in Alaska would face “enormous reputational risk and public backlash”, the investors say in a letter sent on Monday to 100 fossil fuel companies and the banks that finance them.
Exploiting the area would also be an “irresponsible business decision”, the group argues, as global action on climate change will reduce oil demand and mean such projects have a high risk of losing money. An accompanying letter from the indigenous Gwich’in people say it would be “deeply unethical” to destroy their homelands.
This, to me, is really good. It would be nice if we could just say “Don’t do it, because it’s stupid and it ruins everything that is nice and beautiful in the world and we’re already tipping irrevocably into civilizational ruin because we’re pulling all the carbon from the ground and pushing it into the sky and the ocean and can we just stop that and enjoy some moose for goddamn once?”
But that’s not really going to work, and so the language used here is perfect. It of course talks about the rights of the indigenous, which is really heartening after the horrors of DAPL and, say, the last half-millennium-and-change of human history. But it is most powerful, at least for its intended audience, when it uses the language of business.
An “irresponsible business decision” is exactly right. The investors are saying that we’re going to move away from fossil fuels, so this is an enormous investment of capital for an uncertain payoff. I’m not sure that, in a vacuum, they are correct. That battle isn’t won. But when the battle is joined by people who stand to make money from fossil fuels, on the side of clean of energy, that tilts the odds. It’s a (hopefully) self-fulfilling prophecy.
I’m not sure I agree that the companies would face “enormous reputational risk and backlash” overall. As a nation, we tend to be pretty blase about companies poisoning the land and water; it’s not as if there are public marches against Enbridge. But if there is backlash from the large investment groups and pension funds that modern capitalism depends on? Well, that’s a different story.
Finally, I really liked this:
“There is no longer any doubt that climate change poses an acute risk not only to our collective way of life, but also to investments made in outdated and highly precarious forms of energy,” said Thibaud Clisson at BNP Paribas Asset Management, another signatory.
I like that there is almost a sigh, here. “Yes, it may kill us all, but if that’s not enough to get through your greedy, short-sighted heads, it might also cost you money. Christ.”
BNP Paribas has about $682 billion in asset management. This is how capitalism works when it works for good. People make rational, long-term decisions that don’t just look at the quickest and dirtiest dollar, but figure out a way to make sustainable money.
That can be greed. That can be nothing but pure self-interest. That can be not really giving a damn about the Gwich’in people, except as another way to dissuade a company not to make a bad bet.
Is it an ideal system? Probably not. Will it always work? Certainly not. Is it a better way of doing things, and on the path toward something actually sustainable? It seems to be the only way, and maybe the best chance we have at saving ourselves from ourselves.
So today’s rare burst of good news is that capitalism can potentially work when capitalists realize that the destruction of human civilization is bad for the bottom line. Baby steps are better than sprinting backwards.