Supporters of environmentalism have a choice of a large number of non-governmental organisations (NGO’s), ranging from technical to highly politicised. In addition, they may be able to vote for an environmentalist political party. A few of these have developed a coherent political programme; others are pressure groups taking part in elections.
Political environmentalism – with the exception of the German “greens” – does not appeal to me. Its greatest fault is that it seems unable to co-operate on a multinational scale to reach a joint, credible, basic platform. By sticking to a national base, they are neglecting not only an important way to lend more credibility to their message, they also present themselves as “politics as usual” movements, just like the traditional 19th century dogma-based parties. This is all the more important because nationalism-populism cannot easily produce multi-national solutions for global problems. Environmentalism has a global message: if we don’t use the planet wisely, we’ll exhaust its resources and suffer for it. That message suffers if it is restricted to one country.
The message is not getting through. Meeting with a giant food concern recently, I was told that they have the means to produce food that is far more environmentally friendly. However, the average consumer compares price, not environmental quality.
By and large, NGO’s have failed to convince consumers to spend more money to spare their environment.
The problem is worsened by radicalised environmentalists. When I express myself critically about environmentalism, I often get a version of “don’t you care about your children” as counter argument. The implication is that only Greens care about their children, which is so offensive that it immediately closes off channels of communications. Rather than opening minds, it closes them.
Being out of touch doesn’t help either. Populists love to say or imply that environmentalists are hampering industrial development and lowering competitive strength and are therefore anti-jobs, an important issue for the populist right. Environmentalists should acknowledge that jobs are important, rather than reject the populist position out of hand. Green enthusiasts too often conclude that we are on the verge of a “Soylent Green” type Malthusian disaster. In reality, stagnation of population growth has already started and the consequences are painful. Practically all of Europe and much of Asia has a reproduction rate below what it takes to replenish the population. China, the world’s most populous country, is facing a male surplus that hampers reproduction even more. Some regions are already faced with a declining population. They see schools and hospitals closing, houses remaining empty and rising crime. People do read about these unattractive consequences that directly contradict the picture painted by misled environmentalists.
And yet, while I see environmentalism as a political choice I can take or leave, while I think pension funds should apply ESG if their client base wants it or if it reduces risk, not because its directors, board members or trustees want it, there is a reason why I follow environmentalist tenets. That reason is climate change.
We are still in the run-up phase to climate change, but it has already started. This is a fact accepted by some 97% of the scientific world, not an on-going discussion. Research and calculations turn to dates: 2030 and 2050.
Up to 2030, reducing carbon output is relatively easy. A combination of awareness and technology can reduce the growth of carbon pollution significantly. Between 2030 and 2050, humanity will have to make more painful changes in consumption and living patterns. If we fail, climate change will become permanent. The consequences will be desertification and life-threatening heat in some areas, having to abandon indefensible coast lines, disruption of food producing patterns, a rising sea level, climate fugitives flooding the least affected parts of the earth and disastrous events, due to freak weather.
That scenario should be unacceptable to every grandparent, parent or adolescent. Combine that with the deadlines and you get a situation that is not like environmentalism but like COVID19. If unattended, it will hit us all and kill many of us while we are working out a remedy. Still, while the world is co-operating and applying solutions with more or less grace and efficiency in the case of COVID19, major countries, like the US, Russia, China, Brazil and Australia are dithering or denying when it comes to climate change. The difference is that nobody is in favour of COVID19, but the richly funded carbon lobby tries with all means to block progress on climate change. Pension funds urgently need to disarm the carbon lobby financially. I would argue that this is part of their fiduciary duty.
Clearly, climate change and environmentalism overlap. That is why I drive a hybrid, gave up red meat, avoid air travel where possible and plan to install sun cells on my roof this year.
At the same time, there are differences. In view of the installed capacity and production capacity of clean energy equipment, nuclear energy is a necessity for the energy transition.
So are windmills. Compared with the future of our (grand)children, dead birds and nuclear waste are lesser issues.
Peter Kraneveld, former Chief Economist at PGGM, is an international pensions expert at PRIME bv.