Friday, April 25, 2008

"A Dozen Governments Will Fall"

Last night I went to the following event (video here):
On Thursday, April 24, the Museum of American Finance (did you know there was one?) will host a panel discussion entitled "Finance, Energy & the Environment: Changing Markets &
Opportunities to explore the sources of power that will be keeping the lights on and filling investors' pockets in the next five years."

Speakers included:
Pete Cartwright, CEO of Advanced Power Projects, Inc.
Daniel Abbasi, Director at Mission-Point Capital Partners,
Michael Molnar, Vice President at Goldman, Sachs & Co. responsible for the
Alternative Energy and Coal sectors in the Energy & Materials Equity Business
Unit, and Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club.

I always find these discussions somewhat surreal because of the wild contrast between recognizing the gravity of the planetary threat of climate change, and business-as-usual discussions about IPOs and whether people will accept higher utility rates. Are we saving the planet here, or are we just rosining our bows and shining up our fiddles?

Also clear was that solutions were abundant, even if the will to implement them isn't immediately in evidence. In presidential politics, the panelists pointed out, global warming is way down the list.

There's such a frustrating gap between what's available and possible and what we are actually acting on. Countless energy alternatives were mentioned, including carbon sequestration, new co-generation and combined-cycle power plants (wind +gas, solar+coal), pricing efficiency, nuclear. Also discussed were the intricacies of a potential carbon market in the US. There was a lot of healthy disagreement between the enviro guy and the three investor guys that didn't always line up in a predictable way.

Abbasio mentioned the famous Stern report that concluded that the real cost of addressing emissions amounted to 1% of GDP, while the real cost of NOT addressing emissions and allowing global warming to proceed ranges from 5 to 20% of GDP over the next few decades. This is the cost in the existing market, without any fancy pricing of externalities like clean air or drinkable water or health care.

Pope spoke movingly of the Sierra Club's transition from a conservation-focused group to a more activist one, working not only "to stop bad things" but "to make good things happen faster." (Apparently a price on carbon is one of those good things). He also made a prediction that made me sit up. He said between now and November when the next president is elected,

"One dozen governments around the world will fall because of the food crisis, including some that are very important to American security."

Don't know where he got it from, but you heard it here first.

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