Asset Class not in Session

Exotic financial instruments. Linking ‘investors’ and funding to projects to weave profits out of insurance or management strategies designed to ease or hasten climate adaptation… doesn’t actually work:

That’s because of the nature of the underlying “asset.” Sure, in theory, you could securitize the construction of a seawall and capture returns via fees from wealthy coastal dwellers or local councils. But seawalls are not widgets. Each has to be uniquely designed for a specific location and its conditions. There are few economies of scale.

There’s also no established norm about how the costs of climate adaptation projects should be shared among those who are being protected. Will enough residents willingly pay for our theoretical seawall, either directly or via their taxes? Who’s being protected, and at whose expense? Structures that protect one stretch of beach can often create problems further along the coastline.

Adaptation doesn’t fall into a neat category. It can mean investing in infrastructure or designing programs to protect nature. It can involve constructing big sea walls, but it can also be about retaining trees on city streets, or ensuring access to clean drinking water. Right now these measures are too small to interest big pension funds and asset managers. A report by UNEP and others found only about two dozen projects larger than $25 million over the last few years.

Important to separate the reality that climate measures are necessary, and will necessarily save money down the road, from the notion that they represent just another opportunity to build a new revenue stream. The article wisely links climate to justice, and as much as it pains many Americans, there is no way around that. It has been true for even longer than it’s been evident – and it’s been evident for a very long time: people cannot live without justice. Racial. Climate. Economic. These are non-negotiable bonds, in the common parlance. We will do it for its own sake, because it benefits people. THAT’s the return. Clean up the rentier class soiling the revenue stream, the water will run clearly.

Image: Photograph: Emory Kristof/National Geographic/Getty Images

better should

This Blackwater re-branding story reminds me of something that should be rolling around in the back of this blog practically all the time. Just because we might grow used to green-ry doesn’t mean it’s not still happening, moving, changing forms and back again. What is it the kids say – IM N UR INTERTUBZ?

Green washing, lest we forget, is all about branding, which is itself simply a way to identify a product with an idea that triggers ‘the buy’ impulse in consumers. The trigger could be vague and smoky, like sexual allure, or it could be the promotion of a specific sort of loyalty. Either way, the ends are largely the same.

On risk of repetition but begging your forgiveness, Green washing is the branding of a product with sustainability… ecological rigamarole… renewable-ishyness – you see, what cames after the first words, like the singing trees and chirping birds, doesn’t really matter. Though it matters that it doesn’t really matter, if you follow me.

Most people don’t want to go any farther than that, and advertisers know that most people – while they’re sympathetic to the idea of a sustainable world, powered by clean renewables (whatever that means) – don’t want to go any deeper than that. Too many questions arise too quickly about the entire house of cards. We’re the perfect targets for marketing based on self-preservation, basically because we’re afraid to look under our own skirts for what we might see.

Fear not. Go ahead and think of the worst thing you can think of; I’ll wait.

P.S. Dammit! I can’t help thinking that this digression has something to do with the talk by J.P. Witkin that I went to a couple days ago. Hate it when mediums I don’t like work on me anyway.