Big business is waking up to the opportunities of a clean economy. We may be entering an era when an industrial boom benefits the environment.
Warren Buffet is known as The Sage of Omaha. A perennial presence atop the Forbes Billionaire’s list, he remains a modest man, living in a large but not untypical suburban house in Omaha, driving second-hand cars that have been hail-damaged then repaired.
His office has a staff of but twenty-four and no computer. He spends his days reading and thinking and playing bridge on the internet—though not in his office. He has an aversion to debt and he doesn’t go in for Silicon Valley food fads like Schmilk. In fact, he lives on junk food.
You’d think a man of his responsibilities would be harassed and harried, given to bouts of Stalinesque paranoia and control-freakery. But no. Warren simply invests in well-run companies and lets the management get on with running them well while he searches for his next good idea.
In short, Warren defies convention. He simply doesn’t think as other businessmen do—even when it comes to climate change.
As an American industrialist, you’d expect him to see it as a threat. Executives at ExxonMobil certainly did, privately funding the science that confirmed the phenomenon then working in public to deny it.
As a political conservative, you’d think he’d label the whole thing a good ole liberal hoax. American politics, in general, is riddled with climate deniers. One hundred and eighty-two members of the current Congress refuse to accept that it’s happening.
But where the mediocre see a scam, The Sage sees opportunity. Warren views risk to business from climate change the same way he views risk from technological change—something to be planned for.
‘Inaction now is foolhardy,’ he says. ‘Call this Noah’s Law. If an ark may be essential for survival, begin building it today, no matter how cloudless the skies appear.’ He may own a railroad that ships coal, but he’s also one of the biggest suppliers of renewable energy in the US.
His company, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, has made commitments to the development of renewables in support of the deal at COP21. Buffet says the pledges make sense both environmentally and economically.
And the numbers back him up. Mark Jacobson, professor of engineering at Stanford, concluded that a fossil fuel-reliant US will need 2,310 GW of energy by 2050. Alternatively, a 100 percent renewable energy-reliant US would need but 1,296 GW. In the transition to renewables, the country would curb global warming, create jobs, reduce air pollution and save $8,000 per person per year in terms of electricity, health and climate.
It would mean a boatload of economic, social and environmental change for the better.
Other businessmen are getting the message. Michael Bloomberg and Bill Gates want a slice of the pie, and financial institutions such as JP Morgan, Bank of America, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo & Co are getting in on the ground floor, cutting back investments in coal.
Over the pond, UK Energy, the UK’s biggest energy lobbying group representing the six largest utilities, wants a piece of the action too. They’ve begun campaigning for low-carbon alternatives. CEO Lawrence Slade says, ‘No one wants to be running the next Nokia.’
The time has arrived for an industrial revolution which makes as good business sense as it does environmental and social sense. Hell, if the Prophet of Profit says to build an ark, then build it. With the flood already at some people’s doors, now’s not the time for conventional thinking.
The breeze ain’t good merely because it dries my washing. It has played a pivotal (though generally unacknowledged) role in human history, and will do so again.
In 1492 Columbus sailed smack-bang into the Bahamas. The historical significance of the moment was much greater than the deed itself. As far as sailing went, traveling five weeks across an open sea wasn’t much chop.
And the great man’s geography was off. The doofus thought he’d landed in Japan! Even an averagely observant parrot would have noticed that the natives didn’t slurp when they ate their noodles.
Perhaps that’s why he killed them all off. They knew his shame. Was Columbus so vain he committed genocide to save himself from public embarrassment? I think we all know the answer to that . . ..
He was certainly an ego-maniac, claiming for himself the prize for being first to sight land when, in fact, a sailor named Rodrigo de Triana had hooked that lucrative fish. History remembers Rodrigo as the only man to have been shafted worse than Pete Best.
Columbus wasn’t even the first European to reach to the New World. In addition to the Vikings, the fisherman of Bristol knew the American coast well, having harvested the cod of the Grand Banks for donkey’s. Unlike Columbus, they kept the precious resource quiet, hoarding it for themselves.
So Columbus gets the credit because of what followed in his wake—and I’m not talking about yer usual icons of Americanic trumpeting such as the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights or gun deaths. No, the most significant consequences of Columbus’s voyage sprung from his discovery of the trade winds.
These bands of prevailing breeze circle the earth from East to West astride the equator. This was the power Columbus harnessed to whisk the Santa Maria from Africa across the Atlantic. He also learned that at higher latitudes the winds blow the opposite way, and so could whisk him home again.
Thus the Portugese established a triangular commercial route: Europeans to Africa, misery to America and riches to Europe.
It was all about cash. Good for some, disaster for many, but in either case the harnessing of the trade winds tipped the balance of economic power in favor of Europe. And (as always) with economic power came political power.
As it was, so it is, and now the world is on the cusp of wind-driven revolution once more.
In Europe, wind now generates more power than hydro, and the gap to coal and gas is closing fast. In Denmark, wind supplies 42 percent of all electricity, the highest percentage of any country. They’ll reach 50 percent by 2020 and 84 percent by 2035.
The Scots are racing them neck and neck. This January, wind provided almost half of all electricity on the Scottish national grid. For twenty-two days in the month, wind alone generated enough electricity to supply every home in the country.
Over in Norway, they’re building Europe’s largest onshore wind farm, a 1GW network to deliver 3.4TWh of power each year. And in Sweden, the government has announced plans to become fully reliant on renewable energy within thirty years. The idea is to cut domestic emissions by 85 percent and offset the remainder by investing in energy projects abroad.
The technology to be free of fossil fuels is out there. At the moment, the economy needed to achieve that does not exist. But history has shown that the harnessing of wind has driven great economic change before, and may do the same again.