At­mos­phere of ne­glect

Our view: Cli­mate change ques­tions on the pres­i­den­tial de­bate stage — 0; in state cap­i­tals and on Wall Street — bil­lions and bil­lions

Baltimore Sun - - WORLD -

On Wed­nes­day, Mary­land law­mak­ers held a hear­ing to learn more about an is­sue of press­ing fis­cal im­por­tance: cli­mate change. Afew hours later and 2,500 miles away, the two lead­ing can­di­dates for pres­i­dent en­gaged in a de­bate in which the is­sue was treated as no more than an af­ter­thought. Not only was a ques­tion about cli­mate change ab­sent from the stage in Las Ve­gas but it was never raised in the pre­vi­ous two pres­i­den­tial de­bates ei­ther.

How cli­mate change could be re­garded as so ir­rel­e­vant to the pres­i­den­tial con­test yet so cru­cial to state gov­ern­ment fi­nances says a lot about the na­tional state of denial and ne­glect over the harm­ful ef­fects of man-made green­house gas emis­sions.

In An­napo­lis, what law­mak­ers heard is that Mary­land needs to ad­just the in­vest­ments in the state’s $45 bil­lion pen­sion port­fo­lio to min­i­mize its car­bon foot­print. Why? Not be­cause of some bleed­ing-heart de­sire to make the planet a slightly bet­ter place (although ap­ply­ing eth­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions to in­vest­ment de­ci­sions de­serves proper con­sid­er­a­tion, too) but be­cause the fu­ture prof­itabil­ity of green­house gas pol­luters looks dis­mal.

That’s right, on strictly a dol­lar and cents cal­cu­la­tion, Mary­land needs to di­vest from big pol­luters like coal, oil, large man­u­fac­tur­ing and other com­pa­nies that rely on fos­sil fu­els. That shouldn’t come as too great a shock. Coal min­ing com­pa­nies have been fil­ing for bank­ruptcy faster than Don­ald Trump’s At­lantic City casi­nos did a decade ago. Other large pen­sion hold­ers have been adding cli­mate change risk ex­perts to man­age their port­fo­lios for the same rea­son.

And it isn’t just pen­sions. The ad­verse ef­fects of cli­mate change have been wor­ry­ing Wall Street for years. As a re­cent re­port notes, in­sur­ance com­pa­nies — prop­erty and ca­su­alty firms, in par­tic­u­lar — have been fret­ting about wors­en­ing cli­mate change risks. As global warm­ing leads to more cat­a­strophic weather, the dan­ger of huge pay­outs to pol­i­cy­hold­ers has in­creased, and they, like pen­sions and other big in­vestors, are putting their money into re­new­ables.

The list of cor­po­ra­tions that are mak­ing strate­gic de­ci­sions about their fu­ture with an eye to cli­mate change reads like the Dow Jones in­dus­trial av­er­age: Wal­mart, Proc­ter & Gam­ble, John­son & John­son, Star­bucks, Gold­man Sachs and on and on. This isn’t just some pub­lic re­la­tions move; far­sighted ex­ec­u­tives see a huge ad­van­tage in steer­ing their busi­nesses to­ward a re­duced car­bon foot­print, ei­ther through less en­ergy con­sump­tion or greater use of less pol­lut­ing forms of en­ergy as tem­per­a­tures rise.

Yet de­spite this surge of ac­tiv­ity within cor­po­rate lead­er­ship and in­vest­ment com­mu­ni­ties, the pres­i­den­tial con­tenders can’t be asked over the length of four and a half hours of de­bate about what the fed­eral gov­ern­ment should be do­ing? Shame on the In three de­bates, Don­ald Trump and Hil­lary Clin­ton weren’t asked a sin­gle di­rect ques­tion about cli­mate change. var­i­ous mod­er­a­tors for not in­sist­ing that Mr. Trump and for­mer Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton speak di­rectly on such a crit­i­cally im­por­tant topic. It’s an em­bar­rass­ment to jour­nal­ism that the clos­est any­one got to a cli­mate ques­tion was the one about en­ergy-re­lated jobs of­fered by red-sweater-en­thu­si­ast Ken Bone.

As it hap­pens, the can­di­dates’ po­si­tions are no se­cret. Mr. Trump has said he is not a “big be­liever” in man-made cli­mate change (even de­scrib­ing it on Twit­ter as a Chi­nese hoax) and has at­tacked the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­forts to limit green­house gas emis­sions. Ms. Clin­ton be­lieves the prob­lem is real and a threat to the na­tion’s se­cu­rity. She has sup­ported in­ter­na­tional agree­ments to limit emis­sions (say­ing in her Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion ac­cep­tance speech that she was proud to have helped shape them) and has pledged to ac­cel­er­ate clean en­ergy de­ploy­ment.

Granted, Mary­land’s pen­sion in­vest­ments aren’t go­ing to drive na­tional, let alone global, pol­icy on cli­mate change. But it’s cer­tainly pru­dent to make smarter in­vest­ments, a choice made eas­ier if cor­po­ra­tions were re­quired to pub­licly re­veal more about their car­bon foot­prints. That kind of Wall Street re­form is not just so­cially re­spon­si­ble, it’s some­thing in­vestors ought to de­mand. And who should lead the way? That’s the proper role of a U.S. pres­i­dent — to not only seek leg­isla­tive and reg­u­la­tory re­lief but to use the bully pul­pit of his or her po­si­tion to call at­ten­tion to this enor­mous en­vi­ron­men­tal threat and rally pub­lic sup­port be­hind rea­son­able so­lu­tions. For the record, one can­di­date ap­pears qual­i­fied and pre­pared to do so and one does not.

MARK RAL­STON/AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

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