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Greg Burman

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a new environmental activism?

Pounding on political doors with stacks of scientific fact or shrill moral argument has proven a remarkably ineffective way of addressing the issue of climate change.

While Science stands in the middle of the jungle of Commerce screaming at the natives in the languages of Politics and Science, the natives speak only business.

Perhaps it is time for an approach executed in the language of commerce. I do not pretend that this proposal is flawless, without risk or even that the tools necessary all exist today, but nothing if not first a dream.

The value of a business is the value in today’s dollars of future profits, adjusted for the risks associated with generating those profits.

What if a model could be built to translate specific predicted effects of climate change into a probability/risk-adjusted range of impact on the future cash flows of say, a specific publicly held corporation?

A reasonably sized “what if”, but we are talking about probability adjusted risks (not scientific or accounting risk) and their impact on a specific business activity.

A shareholder in a corporation showing a meaningful modelled financial risk would have a legitimate right to ask the Board what they are planning to do to mitigate the risk. If like minded shareholders were sufficient in number and volume could the trading value of that corporation be impacted? To what extent could that influence say CEO behaviour?

In short, this is environmental activism expressed as targeted shareholder activism.

The inherent uncertainties are not the point. The point is, if you have been lobbying and placarding and letter-writing or producing environmental T.V. for the last 30 or 40 years, well how is that working out for you? Think we have time for another 30?

If you believe that our fragile eco bubble is in real danger, then in the words of the Connery character in the movie "The Untouchables":

What Are You Prepared To Do?

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    Dec 10 2012: We can't get the public at large to acknowledge actual, measurable changes in real time, so how do you honestly expect them to understand "probability" as a driving force for change to a status quo way of doing business?

    We don't choose change, we react to it.

    How do you propose to mitigate the psychology behind public apathy toward change to help breathe life into this idea?
    • Dec 10 2012: If I understand your comments correctly I have a couple of points I think.

      Human history is full of examples of people making their own change, so I have to disagree with you there. The alternative is hopelessness which I am not willing to accept. Action begets action and in some cases change.

      I would not worry about attracting public attention, news of shareholder activism will spread through the media with little difficulty. That existing shareholders would pay attention is as close to gauranteed as you can get.

      No, the real issue is not public apathy, it is the pedantic and tunnel-visioned nature of the scientific and environmental research communities who think international agreement and measuring the perma-frost one more time, gathering more data, are the solutions.

      Personally, I believe that to be very near the definition of obsessive comnpulsive disorder. Obsessively repeating the same actions with the expectation of a different result. Its nuts.

      So, do I really expect anyone with an environmentally focused scientific or computer modelling backgrounds (clearly the project would be multi-discipined) to step up and say 'hey yeah, lets build this thng'?

      Well really that is my point. It is there. It could be done. Even the act of trying it would be useful, success aside.

      But will it?

      Only if there is still some imagination and passion to be found in the communities who must build it. And that was my challenge, not to the public but to those communities :

      What Are You Prepared To Do?

      If your personal answer is "nothing that others are not already doing", thats ok with me. You will certainly not be alone.
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        Dec 13 2012: Public apathy does play a role in what you propose, for two reasons:
        1. Corporations react to consumers - Public apathy toward an issue will shift corporations' priorities to things that the public actually care about. Corporations want to reach as many consumers as they can. The way they do that is they target specific issues that consumers care about. Environmental activism is not currently something that the public cares about as much as, say, boosting the economy.
        2. Public will disregard environmental data - Psychology states that people focus on things that are more important to them in the current moment, not something that is long-term. If people don't care, no activism of any kind will produce successful results.
        • Dec 13 2012: Jerry - somehow I feel this has gotten off-point. I'll try to restate here, but for the original less condensed version see my blog: http://wp.me/p1Dr2y-2H

          First, although posted publicly my challenge was not really to the public at large but to the environmental activist and environmental science communities who presumably are already very much interested in solving the problem and ar not apathetic. David Suzuki is retired but lots of others are filling in.

          My view is that they are and always have been spekaing the wrong language and to the wrong people. Difficult to make progress yelling in Engliish (or 'science') if the listeners only speak an obscure click dialect (e.g. that of business) and in any event are not in control.

          So yes you are exactly right, I agree, 'people' in general do not pay attention to scientific data. Most political nodes don't either, unless forced-fed.

          Ergo I am suggesting that the only effective conversation can be one had directly with specific corporate boards of governers and their CEOs and further that the speakers must learn the language of business, not the other way around.

          In terms of funding and public apathy or acceptance you may be thinking of crowd sourced financing or other broadly derived funding, which I suppose could happen eventually but its not really what I had in mind.

          I had in mind challenging environmental scientists to say, stop measuring the perma-frost, maybe not investigate which might be the next speices to drop off the planet and to do something more direct with the cash, like building the proposed model for starters.

          As far as the effectiveness of any resulting shareholder activism I'm pretty sure you know exactly who Carl Icahn (et al) is/are and how they go about things but just in case here's wiki on the topic for any interested others: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Activist_shareholder.

          Thanks for doing what you do.

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