Capitalists Take on Climate Change

The climate change/global warming issue has been in the mainstream for decades, but it still lacks the resonance required to turn heads. Maybe, in part, because it is doubtful the average American could name more than one climate change advocate (it’s all about leadership) other than Al Gore, and in large measure that’s because of his academy award winning film, An Inconvenient Truth (Paramount, 2006).

The climate change issue, even though ubiquitous, does not carry enough pizzazz to sufficiently influence public perception to tackle the problem. The issue needs national leadership, with charisma, not charts, not graphs, not scientific lingo. Climate change is palpable, as shall be discussed herein.

It needs a JFK. Yes, it needs a leader who people believe in when he says: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win….”  ((JFK speech at Rice University/Houston, September 12, 1962.))

By the end of the decade, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped off Eagle onto the lunar surface. Four days later he splashed down to safety in the Pacific Ocean. The remarkable happened.

Well, if we can go to the moon, we can fix global warming, unless it really is too late.

Risky Business on the Scene

In that regard, even though it’s not reincarnate JFK, Risky Business is a powerhouse new enterprise formed by Henry Paulson, Michael Bloomberg, and Thomas Steyer that could very well have the impact on climate change/global warming that JFK did in sending man to the moon. Here’s why: That triumvirate consists of accomplished entrepreneurs who command an audience, and by inference, their concerns about the reality of climate change may be the big push needed to break the Sisyphean myth, finally pushing the boulder over the hill.

The “hill” is a reference to Capitol Hill where climate change issues are deadlocked, blocked, and ridiculed by just enough disbelievers to prevent the good ole USA from assuming a worldwide leadership role on climate change, which, incidentally, is most likely tied to their fondness for the bountifulness of the fossil fuel industry.

But, of course, it is not quite that simple because the climate change issue is also wrapped around the perception of too much government as well as demanding budgets as well as a smattering of ignorance, some bogus, some real.

Regardless, and here is the key, if perchance enough capitalists jump on the bandwagon, they’ll soon come to realize that tackling climate change is profitable, very profitable. However, Paulson, Bloomberg, and Steyer are coming at the issue in the spirit of personal concern about the likely horrendous outcome of a failure to do something. And, they are each beyond the point in life of pandering to the public to make a name or make a buck. They’ve already accomplished fame and fortune. They really, truly see the downside of an out of control climate system.

An op-ed on their web page is headlined: “The Coming Climate Crash,” in which they smoothly and brilliantly segue the financial crash of ’08 to an identical danger for the climate. And, as any casual observer knows, nobody had a better front row seat of the Crash of ’08 than did Henry Paulson (U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, 2006-09).

In Paulson’s words: “We’re staring down a climate bubble that poses enormous risks to both our environment and economy. The warning signs are clear and growing more urgent as the risks go unchecked. This is a crisis we can’t afford to ignore.”

He cleverly uses the word “bubble” to describe the impending problem, and it is beautifully descriptive because, in point of fact, bubbles grow and grow until bursting, then its too late to do much about it. He knows all about that. As such, climate change is following the same script as financial bubbles, growing and growing and growing, and really growing.

In point of fact, the climate change bubble is growing like a weed on the land, in the sea and in the atmosphere. The evidence is everywhere; for example, already the Arctic has lost almost 50% of its mass, which threatens the onset of dreaded runaway global warming as methane hydrates buried under the ice for millennia burst into the open atmosphere. And, worldwide glacial melt is threatening water supplies for crop irrigation, hydro dams, and regular ole drinking water; e.g., one half the glaciers in the Andes have disappeared since 1980. And, as for one more example amongst many, many, many, the ocean is acidifying (because of excessive CO2) at a dangerous rate, threatening the base of the food chain; e.g., pteropods, a food source for everything from krill to whales, are losing their protective shells and thus ability to mature and reproduce because of acidification.

One can only hope that Paulson’s sense of urgency is not too little too late because according to The National Research Council of the National Academies (NRCNA) extensive 200-pg study: “Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change, Anticipating Surprises”, Washington, D.C, December 2013, climate change has already, in certain specific instances, reached the condition of the Titanic at the very moment it struck the iceberg, a “tipping point,” for (1) the Arctic, (2) ocean marine life and (3) maybe Antarctica.

Furthermore, the NRCNA report stated: “The history of climate on the planet— as read in archives such as tree rings, ocean sediments, and ice cores— is punctuated with large changes that occurred rapidly, over the course of decades to as little as a few years.”

The blue chip NRCNA report sponsors include: U.S. intelligence agencies, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation, and the National Academies. The National Academies consists of: the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council.

Thus, it is clear Paulson knows what he’s talking about, as expressed in: Henry M. Paulson, Jr. The Coming Climate Crash, New York Times/Opinion, June 21, 2014, and Risky Business is all about challenging business leaders to focus on the economic risks associated with a changing climate.

Therefore, now that Risky Business is shifting the dialogue about climate change from the scientific to its “effect on the economy,” the probability of a nationwide effort to tackle the global warming conundrum has some legs, maybe inclusive of the U.S. Congress, but who knows about that?

Risky Business has opened the door for serious national debate about fixing the climate change issue, not simply discussing it, similar to JFK creating a pathway for the technological marvel of a trip to the moon in the 1960s, pre-fax, pre-Internet, pre-cell phones, pre-reality TV, oops, progress skipped a beat there.

An Economic Renaissance

The Risky Business initiative is praiseworthy, and the impact of their efforts may prompt an even bigger benefit for society. It may bring in its wake a major economic renaissance as attempts to resolve/fix the climate change problem hasten the conversion from fossil fuels to renewables. Significantly, that has the potential to be the biggest boost to the economy since the invention of the Model T.

After all, NASA’s moon shot certainly paid dividends. According to the NASA web site: “While lawmakers back in 1958 anticipated NASA’s potential for spurring technological innovation, it is unlikely these legislators largely anticipated even a fraction of the impact the new agency would have as an engine of economic growth, and as a benefactor to society, not just in the United States, but worldwide.”

When JFK said “we choose to go to the moon,” who would’ve thought the benefits would include, as follows: “The term “spinoff” was invented to describe specific technologies developed by NASA for its missions that are transferred for commercial use or some other beneficial application. Thus far, NASA has documented more than 1,500 spinoff success stories.”

In similar fashion, a nationwide conversion to clean renewable fuels will spark a renaissance of economic growth and a virtual flowering of full employment.

A study – co-authored by Stanford researcher Mark Z. Jacobson and UC-Davis researcher Mark A. Delucchi – “analyzing what is needed to convert the world’s energy supplies to clean and sustainable sources says that it can be done with today’s technology at costs roughly comparable to conventional energy. But converting will be a massive undertaking on the scale of the moon landings. What is needed most is the societal and political will to make it happen.” ((Stanford News, January 26, 2011.))

As well, U.S. economic history provides insight to what happens when major economic transformations occur: The Roaring Twenties were not called “roaring” for nothing. That era experienced an ongoing economic renaissance as automobiles took over the roads.

From 1910 to 1930 U.S. GDP increased 300%. That “whopper” of an economy occurred while one of the biggest industries in America, manufacturing of horse-drawn carriages, went out of business!!! The conversion from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles (the 15 millionth Model T rolled off the assembly line in 1927) set the nation’s economy on fire.

As such, Paulson, Bloomberg, and Steyer may want to consider visiting Scotland on a fact-finding mission. Today, Scotland is 40% renewables on the way to 100% by 2020. There’s one climate change solution in action.


Public discourse about climate change has resulted in the erroneous idea that it’s all about cost, burden and sacrifice. If the math was correct, everyone would see it’s about profit, jobs and competitive advantage.

— Amory Lovins, Chairman/Chief Scientist, Rocky Mountain Institute

Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide. He can be contacted at: Read other articles by Robert.