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.