Irrational avoidance of the unpleasant
4 April 2012
On 14 March, Jeremy Grantham, philanthropist and co-founder of asset-management firm Grantham Mayo Van Otterloo, gave a special lecture at Imperial entitled Attitudes in America to investing, resource limitations and global warming: irrational avoidance of the unpleasant. His lecture explored the mismatch between finite resources and exponential population growth, and questioned what can be done to address this in the world’s most powerful economy. Reporter spoke to Jeremy before his lecture, to find out what goes on in the mind of a successful businessman with such a keen interest in the future of the planet:
What do you think is the most unpleasant thing American investors are avoiding?
I think the thing investors get most agitated about, partly because it’s what they’re paid to do, is climate change. You would say that was irrational unless you recognise what a substantial investment of time and money people put into it when they have interests in energy. There are many in the USA whose beliefs lead them to deny the science behind climate change.
Do you think this issue is mirrored in the UK and internationally?
The Australians have a pretty healthy dose of climate change avoidance thanks to people in the prominent mining industry who attempt to influence government decisions through the use of muscle power. In Britain it’s hard to tell how some of the critics of climate science are motivated; are they doing it because they’re contrarians who want to go against the likes of the [pro-climate change stance of the] Royal Society? Or are they doing it because they enjoy the limelight and the sense of their own influence? Or are they just such natural passionate contrarians that they will challenge the science whatever the facts? Probably some of them are merely hired guns, like professional ‘experts’ in a murder trial.
What are you most proud of having achieved?
For me, it’s running a really substantial, ethical investment firm that puts its clients first, which, believe me, is not that common. And on the environmental side, we’re really proud of the work done at the Grantham Institutes at Imperial, the London School of Economics and the Indian Institute of Science. In general, scientists have been quite wimpy but I think these three institutions have tried to make the point that these are the facts, unpleasant or not, and that they really matter.
— Simon Levey, Communications and Development