It’s always difficult to write (non-boring) posts on conferences. People come on stage, discuss wonky issues, and leave. There’s rarely any “news.” If people really wanted to hear my running commentary, they would do what With-It People do and follow my tweets.
So, just a broad observation on today’s events. One of the earliest sessions of the day was Bjorn Lomborg, delivering his increasingly ridiculous message that we have to prioritize social spending (banal) and that spending to avert climate change just doesn’t pass the cost-benefit analysis test (absurd).
Underlying Lomborg’s nonsense is an assumption so common (in some circles) that it scarcely seems worth stating explicitly, much less defending: that reducing emissions is all about immediate economic costs and nebulous, distant social benefits. The question is always, do the nebulous distant benefits justify the immediate economic costs?
This mindset informed virtually all the questions the moderators asked (with the exception of Jeffrey Ball, who’s very sharp). With every business or policy proposal, it was, what about the cost? Will people pay the cost? Can we afford the cost during a recession? The one-track-mindedness reached comic proportions a few times. Right after Lomborg, architect William McDonough came out, told a few stories of saving companies millions of dollars, then built his way in a poetic reverie on buildings that could be like trees, fecund and regenerative. WSJ’s Kimberly Strassel paused, and then, I kid you not: “But what about the cost?”
Jaybus. I mean, A, how about having more than one thought, and B, he just told you he saved these companies millions of dollars. S-A-V-E-D. That like … un-cost.
When WSJ’s Alan Murray was interviewing Amory Lovins, he just kept repeating incredulously, “but what about the trade-offs?” “Trade-off” is code for the notion that any environmental improvement comes at economic expense. Lovins, meanwhile, was talking about building super-efficient buildings at under average cost. He was repeating, as he has so many times, that saving energy (and cutting emissions) is cheaper than buying it.
I don’t know why people who were cheerleaders for an utterly pointless $3 trillion war and hundreds of billions of dollars of Wall Street bailouts suddenly become obsessive-compulsive bean counters when it comes to, oh, improving public health or saving our grandchildren from untold misery, but if you’re going to count the beans, count the fracking beans.
This is the second year I’ve been at this conference. CEO after CEO talks about making big investments and getting even bigger returns. I have not seen or met a single businessperson who has done this stuff and says anything but, “I’m glad we did it, it paid off bigger than we thought it would, it energized my employees, it absolutely makes business sense.” The only people I’ve seen say anything negative about greening efforts are people like Michael Morris who have resisted making them.
Why, in the face of this torrent of evidence, do some folks fail to see the profitable emission reduction strategies in front of them? Lovins later asked Gore, somewhat plaintively, “how can we change the conversation from sacrifices and costs to opportunities, jobs, and savings?”
I wish I knew. It’s a peculiar sort of malady, like color blindness or something.