Private enterprise, especially in the form of large corporations, is frequently at odds with sustainable thinking. There are exceptions, of course, but the pseudo-ethical position of being “responsible to the shareholders” favors positive growth every fiscal quarter whatever the long-term cost. (Kind of like our elected representatives tend to favor what will be easiest to sell their constituents on before the next re-election over the interests of the next generation.) It’s the tragedy of the commons, where every individual acts selfishly and all of us are worse off.
Yet as these long-term disaster scenarios we’ve been warned about are coming to pass, there’s a ray of hope. Green investment is becoming less of a niche and more of a thing. Either individuals who are smart enough to think beyond next week are moving into positions of influence and effecting a sea of change, or some of the old guard have become convinced we’re no longer talking about a future generation’s problem. We are that generation. We’re reaping what’s been sown. As I’ve recently seen coined, climate change has become climate’s changed. And it can keep getting worse, so any long-term planning, political or economical, must take the planet we live on into account.
To that end, here are five terrible long-term investments for our planet and our species.
1) Coal: The European investment bank, EU’s main lender, has recently announced that they will (mostly) no longer be financing coal-powered electricity, a move that echoes a previous policy decision by the World Bank. Pound for pound, coal is one of the worst greenhouse gas emitters, but what’s worse is how frankly unnecessary it really is. There are so many ways to get electricity, coal only seems cheap when you ignore the overwhelming cost of the environmental damage it causes.
2) Oil: Well, duh. Astoundingly, even the government continues to invest in this stuff. Besides the usual non-sensical subsidies being provided to perhaps the world’s worst environmental pirates, Canada and the U.S. have been pushing forward on Keystone XL despite widespread opposition. The return on this investment is Armageddon. Let’s put our money into building something that won’t destroy everything else.
3) Meat: I’m not a vegetarian. Let’s get that out of the way. I respect that choice from an ethical and animal rights standpoint, but my push on reducing per capita meat consumption in North America is environmentally-motivated. There are public health reasons that meat should be less artificially cheap than it is, as well. But in keeping with the focus of this article, let’s shelve those two (excellent) other reasons for not eating (as much) meat and focus on the environmental reasons.
It’s an inefficient way to raise food calories thanks to energy loss between trophic levels, it’s supported by artificially cheap, overproduced corn that relies on enormous amounts of fossil-fuel based fertilizers, and it’s incredibly non-local, resulting in more emissions due to transport of both feed and meat. Large-scale, factory-farmed meat is a bad investment.
4) Soft drink companies: Again, there are non-environmental reasons why profitable junk-food peddlers are a bad investment. In the end, the more successful these companies are at peddling their calorie-laden nectars, the more we all pay for it through our beleaguered public health infrastructure. But it’s also part of our throwaway culture. Staying one step ahead of trends towards greater health consciousness, soda-makers invented a need from whole cloth: pure, clean bottled water. The problem is all those horrible plastic bottles are anything but clean. How much would it cost to clean up those immortal bits of plastic filling our oceans and climbing up the food chain?
5) Traditional car companies: We’re moving into a phase where nearly everybody has to develop hybrids lest they be left behind. But if you’re going to invest in a car company, don’t invest in the ones that are providing minimal improvements in fuel economy as a publicity stunt. Pushing ridiculous, over-powered trucks because it’s manly and American and then trying to jump onto the “eco” bandwagon is ridiculous in the extreme. 99 per cent of men don’t need a giant truck and even less women need a giant SUV, but this has become “the thing” in North America’s middle class. I would only go out of my way to support a car company that is mass-producing and promoting at least one vehicle without a gas tank.
In summary: This list is neither exhaustive nor does it purport to be a top five in any quantitative sense. As a person with a (very) modest amount of money in investments myself, I can tell you that it’s possible to make a fair return without investing in dirty energy or other world-destroying companies. The energy portion of my portfolio was a Canadian hydro/wind/solar collective for many years and I was happy to see it grow for reasons that went deeper than a small increase in my RRSPs.
There are many ways to invest. By lobbying government to support or not support certain industries or companies, via personal investment decisions, and as a consumer. The smart money is on the investments that still leave us with a planet that can support us in 30 years. Let’s all be smart.
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