Climate Change and the Role of Investors

We’re going to have to do something about climate change.

I will review the science and the possible solutions, and ask what role investors – including your clients – can and should have to foster a solution.

We’ll have to adapt to it. It will continue. It will get worse. We can’t stop it in its tracks. Oceans will rise. We’ll build sea walls. We’ll move away from seacoasts. It will get hotter. We’ll use more air conditioning. That will make the problem worse. Other things will happen. Some of them might be more serious. We can’t be sure which. There are too many complicating factors.

We’ll have to “mitigate” it too. That means we’ll have to stop increasing greenhouse gases in the air. Why? If we don’t the earth will eventually become like Venus. Venus has an atmosphere that is mostly carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. The temperature on Venus is 880 degrees Fahrenheit. We don’t want that. It would take thousands of years to get there if we keep sending fossil fuel emissions into the air. But the earth would become uninhabitable for humans long before that. Perhaps much sooner than we think.

That is the basic science. When greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increase, they slow the release of heat from the earth. The incoming energy from the sun will build up and won’t be released fast enough. The earth will heat up.

Science, therefore, answers the question of whether we need to do something about climate change. Science says yes.

Does science say when we need to do something about it? That’s a question for cost-benefit analysis. Cost-benefit analysis is not science. When somebody tells you, “Science tells us we need to reduce our carbon emissions to zero by the year 2050,” you reply, “Like hell it does.” If the impending disaster were an asteroid bound to hit the earth in exactly 50 years, then the science would say when. In this case it doesn’t. It leaves that to us.