Climatenomics: Washington, Wall Street and the Economic Battle to Save our Planet,
by Bob Keefe
Reviewed by Don Gordon
Climate change activists are no longer driven by saving polar bears. They want to save profits. They want to make money. Climate change is not just an Inconvenient Truth. It is a matter of economics. That is the premise behind Bob Keefe’s ground-breaking 235 page book “Climatenomics: Washington, Wall Street and the Economic Battle to Save our Planet.”
Climatenomics is filled with riveting stories and peer-reviewed research about the costs of our current climate crisis and the mitigation efforts that are driving business and finance industries. One fascinating example is the grass roots takeover of the board of directors for Exxon. In the early 2000s Exxon was the most valuable company in the world. It funded campaigns of climate disinformation to support political candidates that did their bidding. This financial support paved the way for Exxon executives to assume powerful positions in the U.S. government. (Remember Rex Tillerson, Exxon CEO, who became the U.S. Secretary of State under President Trump). But when the world began movely sharply to clean energy in 2020, Exxon’s market capitalization dropped $22 billion, half of what it was in 2008.
Enter the Exxon revolutionaries, led by a Chris James, a 51 year old investment broker, and former owner of coal mines and oil tank companies. He along with representatives of Vanguard, a huge investment company, stormed the gates at the May 2021 shareholders’ meeting. Flexing their muscles with 344 million shareholder votes, Vanguard helped elect an alternative slate of directors, more attuned to the long-term financial implications of climate change. Chris James, Vanguard and other large investment firms didn’t take over the Exxon board of directors because they wanted to protect the polar bears. They wanted to maximize their profits. “If we’re right on getting Exxon to mitigate these impacts, the stock should go up,” James told the Wall Street Journal, “and maybe Exxon does have a future.”
Eight months after its board shake-up, Exxon Mobil in January 2022 announced it had set a goal to reach net-zero carbon emissions in operations by 2050. Chevron and Shell have set similar goals.
Keefe’s book is saturated with similar captivating stories of major companies “going all in” on transitioning to clean energy. Another chapter, for example, tells about his visit to Google headquarters in 2003. Building after building was designed and fitted for solar panels. Five years before Tesla was making cars, nearly every parking space had thick power cords running to them in order to charge electric vehicles. Google wanted to be the model for major companies around the world. The leaders behind Google’s climate response eventually left the company to start and operate capital funds for climate innovations. These environmental funds attracted $31 billion in investments in 2021, 30% more than in 2020 and more than two-and-a-half times what it was in 2019. The wildfires on the west coast, tornados ripping up the middle of the country and hurricanes pounding the east coast made the clean energy a common sense choice for future investments. Former Google executive Chris Sacca said, “Fixing the planet is just good business. Shame and guilt won’t get us there, markets will.”
Keefe’s concluding chapter travels back to one of the last speeches given by Republican President Teddy Roosevelt in 1908 to the governors of the country. After delineating the nation’s material resources, which fueled nation’s rise to a global power, Roosevelt proclaimed these words of warning, “The time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils shall have been still further impoverished and washed into streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation. These questions do not relate only to the next century or to the next generation.”
Climate change wasn’t a threat to the world back then. Roosevelt didn’t know about climate change, but he knew, deep in his heart, the connection between burning oil and coal and ruining the planet. Keefe’s book reveals not only the moral challenge of climate change, but the economic costs of ignoring it and the benefits of confronting it with creative investments for the long-long-term. For those interested in the economics of climate change, I couldn’t offer a higher recommendation than Climatenomics ( ***** 5 Stars).