Year 3, Month 1, Day 19: The Problem Is Not The Problem

The Oregon Bend Bulletin runs a McClatchy story noting that our virtuous and responsive private sector is getting into the act:

UNITED NATIONS — In the language of the 450 large institutional investors meeting at a conference here Thursday, climate change is a risk to avoid and also an opportunity to make a good return on investments.

The investors, who control more than $20 trillion worldwide, are looking at climate change from a business perspective even as Washington steers clear of the issue. Clean energy investments worldwide grew 5 percent in 2011 over 2010, despite financial turmoil in Europe and a wobbly economy in the U.S., according to a report released at the conference.

“I think the key message is that the narrative is changing. The private sector is taking the lead in addressing climate change,” said Mindy Lubber, the president of the investor and environmental coalition Ceres, one of the conference sponsors.

“This is a premier issue that’s being followed like a laser by the financial community.”

Global clean-energy investments reached $260 billion in 2011, some five times more than the $50 billion in 2005, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance report. The analysis looks at renewable energy, energy-efficiency technology and biofuels, but doesn’t include natural gas or nuclear power in its assessment.

While this isn’t bad news, it isn’t necessarily good news either. Sent January 13 (a good day for letter-writing — this one brings me 6 days ahead!):

Given the pathetic failure of the industrialized world’s governments to address the climate crisis with anything approaching the requisite urgency, the news that leaders in the private sector perceive opportunities in climate mitigation and adaptation is welcome. But it would be disingenuous to simply frame the complex consequences of a runaway greenhouse effect as an economic “opportunity.” That’s uncomfortably like, say, framing lung cancer as a “sales opening for electronic cigarettes.”

One of the drivers of global climate change is an economic model predicated on the need for continuous growth — a model shared by most if not all of the world’s governments, and patently a leftover from the days when the resources of Earth seemed infinitely exploitable. Those days are gone; it is all too obvious that we live on a finite planet. While the engagement of the corporate sector in fighting this slow-motion catastrophe is certainly welcome, it won’t mean much absent an economic philosophy which values sustainability more than profit.

Warren Senders

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