Philanthropy & risk taking in global energy: challenges, opportunities.

Jeremy Leggett in Alliance magazine:  “In my new book, The Energy of Nations: Risk blindness and the road to renaissance, I argue that the conventional energy industry is repeating the failing. The challenges that this throws up for the philanthropy world are profound. But the opportunities are also substantial.”
….”Most foundations focus their work in the energy arena on climate change and reducing emissions. But the risk taking by the energy incumbency extends across much broader terrain than this, which makes it much more vulnerable than if its collective irresponsibilities were limited to carbon emissions. Let me explain what I mean.
….For years now almost all philanthropists and grantees have focused their efforts on international efforts to curtail emissions. To date this has not achieved the results we want: global emissions have gone on rising. What we have managed to achieve, after the expenditure of much foundation cash, is a degree of better transparency on how much carbon is burned, where and by whom. But this has not slowed the overall emission rate.
Of course, continuing with the same strategies does not guarantee continuing failure. History is not necessarily destiny. But there might be more promising fronts open to us.”
….Encouragingly, some financial institutions have already begun reducing investment in fossil fuels. Examples are the Norwegian insurer Storebrand and the Swedish state pension fund AP4. Others have stayed invested, but are now demanding that cash be deployed not to inflate the carbon bubble but as dividends: money paid back to investors so that they can invest it in something more useful and more profitable if they wish.
Growing numbers of people think that this line of attack is more likely to achieve a breakthrough on climate change. It is very different from pressuring companies and governments to measure emissions. It aims to divert, and ultimately turn off, the dysfunctional river of capital flowing to carbon. This is an area ripe for foundation support.
….”Even if the US shale phenomenon isn’t a bubble, is it an exportable phenomenon? Given the emerging environmental downsides, the water resource requirements, and other factors, almost certainly not.
….There is great scope for the philanthropy world to foster debate over systemic risks such as this – some foundations are already actively funding projects in this area. It is distressing how easily the energy incumbency pushes comforting narratives out to receptive ears in government, the corporate world, and the public.
….”There were few whistleblowers in the run-up to the financial crash, and they were vilified. Today ‘peakists’ – believers in premature peak oil – tend to be shunned by most players, including foundation funders. This needs to change: softening the blows from an oil shock involves the same tools as abating climate risk.
My parents’ generation amazed themselves at how fast they could mobilize tanks, fighters, bombers, warships – not to mention millions willing to drive them – under the gun. If we were to repeat that level of application, we could abate much of the horror that the IPCC warns of, and soften the inevitable shock/s. There is much the philanthropy world can do to prepare for this day – not least in going beyond the distribution of grants to the reinvestment of their endowments.
As I explain in my book, I expect we will have only one chance to get this right next time around.”