The Easiest Environmental Decision You’ll Ever Make

Hillary Clinton says: “Climate change is an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time.”

Donald Trump says: “I don’t believe in climate change. … It’s a hoax.”

Greenland ice melt Sept 2016, courtesy of John Englander

If you understand that climate change is real and happening and of huge importance, that doesn’t leave you much to decide. That’s a political decision, of course.  I don’t usually write about politics.  But the policy implications of the political outcome are just too big to ignore.

This isn’t one of those issues that gets lost in the swamp of charges and countercharges and the race to the bottom of whom you trust least.  This doesn’t depend on which cable news channel you watch. Just go to the source.  Go to their campaign web sites:

  • Hillary Clinton’s web site lists “Environment” as a top level issue. Donald Trump’s web site  has no Environment section at all. His site has an “Economic Vision” section which includes “Energy reform”, where he addresses environmental issues.
  • On the Paris Agreement: Clinton’s “Environment” section begins, “Hillary’s plan will deliver on the pledge President Obama made at the Paris climate conference.” Trump’s site says: “Cancel the Paris Climate Agreement (limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius) and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs.”
  • On the Clean Power Plan: Clinton promises to “[d]efend, implement, and extend … the Clean Power Plan and standards for cars, trucks, and appliances that are already helping clean our air, save families money, and fight climate change.” Trump promises to: “Rescind all the job-destroying Obama executive actions including the Climate Action Plan…..”

That leaves no choice. A vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote to admit climate change is real and make urgent progress to deal with it.  A vote for Donald Trump is a vote for denial – denial of science, denial of reality, and denial of our responsibility to our future, our children and our world. And make no mistake.  A vote for anyone else – or failure to vote – is, in effect, a vote for Trump and denial.

If this discomfits any of my clients or partners, so be it.  This issue is too important to be left vague.  I do want to be very clear: I am speaking for myself, and not them (please see my usual disclaimer below.)

To those clients, though, I would suggest a few moments’ reflection.  I am deeply sympathetic to the challenges of stranded assets – not to mention stranded careers, pensions and egos.  However, I also know that many clients in fact do understand climate change but find it politically uncomfortable – if not dangerous – to speak openly in their companies.  To those clients, I would say: “Let’s talk about how to exercise responsible leadership in your company  without committing suicide.  Let’s talk about ‘leading from below.’ But please remember, your company won’t be in the voting booth with you.”

As a strategist, I would advise even those clients who don’t agree to think carefully.  Public demands for climate change action will continue and intensify, regardless of the outcome of the election.  The question is whether government will step up and play its role to lead on solving public policy issues, or step back and leave business to bear the brunt of those demands.  Would you rather have rational public policy that sets clear expectations applying to all companies, creates a level playing field and spells out what should be disclosed?  Or would you like intensified guerrilla warfare with your consumers, customers, investors, employees and the media?

Doesn’t seem like that hard a decision.

[Opinions in this blog are solely those of Scott Nadler and do not necessarily represent views of Nadler Strategy’s clients or partners, or those cited in the post. To share this blog, see additional posts on Scott’s blog or subscribe please go to nadlerstrategy.com.]

Sea Level Rise: We know now what we’ll wish we knew then

I’ve spent 40 years working on investment and disinvestment decisions, both in the public and private sectors. I’ve worked with railroads, ports, transit lines, and thousands of business location decisions. All too often I’ve looked back at my past decisions and said: “I wish I knew then what I know now.”

IMG_0063With sea level rise (SLR), we do know “then”.  It’s a natural disaster in slow motion.  It’s like a bad disaster movie: the avalanche or crashing oil trucks are heading our way and we can’t stop them. Sea level rise, though, is in slow motion. With this disaster, we have time to prepare.  But we have to actually decide to do something about it now.

I thought I had a fairly sophisticated understanding of sustainability related issues.  Then I heard John Englander talk about climate-enhanced Sea Level Rise (SLR).  He made a compelling case that no matter how much progress we make on climate change, some of the damage is already done. Faster sea level rise is inevitable and sooner than I thought.  Englander and other scientists predict that we could have a  foot of global average sea level rise by 2050, possibly more.  (And the awareness of sea level rise and its impacts is growing each week.) John’s observation was that very few businesses, cities or individuals are facing up to this prospect.

After hearing John speak, I did my due diligence. I read his writing.  I read the reviews and commentaries. I tracked him down and talked with him intensely.  I had a respected friend with a strong background in marine sciences vet the science.  I learned some things:

  • A lot of impacts are going to be felt much sooner than I’d realized. As we saw with Hurricane Sandy, a few inches can make the difference between a near miss and devastated infrastructure.
  • A lot of impacts are going to be felt more broadly than I’d realized. SLR is not just a concern for the usual suspects like people living in south Florida or working in low-lying harbors. Consequences may be felt physically in upriver inland locations like Sacramento. Commercial or personal consequences may be felt anywhere if you do business with or ship through a vulnerable area – and almost all shipping goes through those areas.  Not to mention airports – ever come in for a landing over water and hold your breath waiting for land to appear under the wings before you felt contact (think Logan, Laguardia…)?

Some people and businesses are acting on these insights, but not many.  Interestingly, those who are acting don’t advertise: if you’re seeking business advantage by moving ahead of the crowd, why tip everyone else off? Overall, though, as businesses decide whether (or where) to buy or construct a facility that should last 20 or 30 years, most are not yet considering whether that facility will be viable – or dry – in that time frame.

Test yourself on this. If you have a responsibility for investment or disinvestment in assets, the question is: why aren’t you motivated? Do you know what your exposure, risks and unrealized opportunities from SLR may be? If you have a fiduciary responsibility for a company, a real estate portfolio, an investment portfolio, have you done your due diligence?  If you deal with strategy decisions or capital investment for a railroad, a utility, a municipality, have you done your due diligence? If you are an insurer or reinsurer of any of the above, have you done your due diligence? If you compile your company’s reports to investors and the SEC, have you done your due diligence?

If the answer is no, you’re not unusual. As a species, we’re real good at acting when things are “urgent to finish”.  We’re motivated by deadlines.  We’re much worse when things are “urgent to start”.  If a task takes a week and the deadline is next week, no worries: we’ll get it done.  If a deadline is three weeks away but it’s going to take 5 weeks to get the job done, it’s even more urgent to start.  But we don’t get too motivated by that.  And if the deadline is measured in years, it’s still being debated, and it’s intimidating in its enormity, all the more likely we won’t focus now.

And these aren’t easy times for a business to look ahead. CEOs face a lousy macro-economic situation (and maybe macro-political too). With a tough economy and a scary election, they understandably may feel that they have enough on their plate.  If I were a CEO, I might be afraid that the sky will fall before the ocean will rise.

Intriguingly, though, there are ways to start acting now, to start doing now what we’ll wish we did before “then”. There are opportunities to spend capital more wisely.  There are opportunities to invest in options now, acquiring property or property rights on less vulnerable locations before the market prices those up.  There are opportunities to shift investment out of more vulnerable locations and activities – before the market begins to discount their value.  There may even be opportunities to spend less, by realizing that the useful life of some SLR-impacted facilities may be shorter than we think.

That’s why I decided to join with John and see if we could help businesses and industries get on with it and act.

The good news is, we know now what we’ll wish we acted on then.  There’s time to act.  But it is increasingly urgent to start.

[Unconventional disclosure: Normally bloggers disclose their financial interest in a topic so you can think about whether it influenced their views.  This time, it’s the other way around: my views on the topic led me to create a financial interest by starting to work with Rising Seas Group.]

[Opinions on this site are solely those of Scott Nadler and do not necessarily represent views of Nadler Strategy’s clients or partners. To share this post, see additional posts on Scott’s blog or subscribe please go to nadlerstrategy.com.]