Evolution Markets Sundance Conclave: Day Three
In today's dispatch, we sit down for an interview with Theodore Roosevelt, IV (the great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt) about how he came to put global warming at the top of his agenda.
Mon, Mar 30 2009 at 9:53 AM
MAN ON A MISSION: Ted Roosevelt IV speaking at the Evolution Markets Sundance Conclave.
> First dispatch: Evolution Markets holds green conclave
> Second dispatch: Q&A with Dr. Prodipto Ghosh
Early morning sun softly lit snow-covered Mount Timpanogas, promising a perfect bluebird ski day at the Utah resort. But participants at the Evolution Markets Sundance Conclave had a full morning agenda before they’d be back out in the crisp morning air. The day’s program began with a discussion about the political outlook for a new energy policy and the issues surrounding legislation to create a carbon cap-and-trade program. To provide a counter perspective, the next session featured a one-on-one conversation with Don Blankenship, chairman and CEO of Massey Energy, one of the country’s largest coal producers. A panel discussion focusing on opportunities in environmental markets concluded the session.
Afterwards, we caught up with Ted Roosevelt IV, who gave the keynote dinner presentation. Following are highlights from our conversation:
You’ve spent nearly forty years working as an investment banker and currently are a managing director at Barclays Capital Corporation. How did you become so interested in climate change?
I had an unusual background in that I grew up on a farm and my parents believed that I should entertain myself. So I spent my childhood engrossed in nature --catching frogs, and salamanders, and crawfish. It was the most incredibly interesting thing I did. Nature grabbed me. Twenty-five years later, I began to see changes -- the wrens and warblers were coming up much earlier than normal. Not just days, but weeks. The flowers and trees started budding earlier than normal. And I knew something was happening, but wasn’t sure what. Shortly thereafter, I started reading about climate change and it started to make sense. But it was the experience on the ground that captured my interest.
You now serve as chair of the Pew Center for Global Climate Change and a trustee of the Alliance for Climate Protection. What have been some of the most poignant things you’ve learned through your extensive research into climate change?
I was very taken by one study that looked at several species of frogs and their different habitat on a mountain in Africa. The mountain had several different habitats delineated by elevation. So every 100 meters had a different rainfall and temperature. The researchers observed that the frogs had developed specialization for each of these habitats. When they returned ten years later, the noticed that almost every frog had moved up a habitat level and the frogs that they had observed on the summit were no longer there. They were all gone. Dead. As an amateur natural historian, this was very concerning to me, because I realized it is highly likely that we will see massive destruction of biodiversity in the future. We’re seeing habitat destruction in the arctic ice that very clearly is threatening the polar bear. Spring is coming earlier and the winter starting later, which has a profound effect on the mother polar bear, who relies on a longer winter to eat seals and replenish the high percentage of body fat she loses every winter while hibernating.
Where do Americans stand on global warming?
A February, 2007 survey from the Pew Charitable Trust reported that 47 percent of Americans believed that climate change was serious. Today, 42 percent of Americans believe that. Curiously, the science around climate change has become more ominous and at the same time, the American people are less concerned. I think this is partly because the environmental community has often overstated the problem, so there’s a little bit of a Peter-and-the-Wolf scenario. But it’s also because the public hasn’t heard much about the new science, partly because it’s a little arcane, but mostly because the media does an appallingly bad job covering this. The media thinks that balanced coverage is giving the cuckoos, people who haven’t read science, a voice.
What do you say to people who don’t believe humans are contributing to climate change?
The world’s getting warmer -- that’s irrefutable. So once we acknowledge that the world’s warming, we have to come up with an explanation for why this is. If we say that human beings are not the cause of global warming then we need to come up with an alternative reason. To the best of my knowledge, the deniers have not come up with one.
Many people think it’s imperative that we take dramatic and immediate measures to slow down global warming. They often end up preaching to the choir. How can they get the message to the 58 percent of Americans who don’t believe it’s a serious issue?
We have to be very sensitive. I often make an analogy to the abolitionists. They were right, but they were so sanctimonious and morally superior that no one liked them. We have to avoid that. Instead, we have to reach out and make partners with non-traditional allies, like labor. We have to treat people with respect and assume that they’re at least as smart, if not smarter, than we are. We also have to recognize that most ranchers and farmers are often very good stewards of the land. When we’re talking to people, we have to spend at least half of the time listening to them, and then share -- not tell -- them about our thoughts. I also don’t think it’s appropriate to try to scare people. I’m scared because of what I’ve learned about the consequences of climate change, but we shouldn’t resort to scare tactics to get our message across. We have to sit down with them, and ask them, “What changes do you see since your father, or grandfather, had this ranch?” And then ask, “What do you think might be causing these changes?”
What do you think should be the role of the government in creating a policy to reduce carbon emissions?
Obama could regulate carbon emissions thru the EPA, but he has made it very clear that he wants to create a policy through legislation. Although this process will have a lot of compromises, I believe legislation is better than regulation. Two of the most important things congress has to do are 1) establish a cap on carbon emissions that will decrease over time and 2) create a policy that is sustainable both economically and politically. The cost of energy will go up in the short term and an increase in price will cause people to use energy more frugally. But we want to be very careful that we don’t put another regressive tax that will result in the poor bearing the burden disproportionately. The concept of burden-sharing is very important.
Are you hopeful for the future?
We’ve always got to make sure that we don’t miss the forest for the trees. We are living in an era of unprecedented change and we need to make sure we accelerate change in the right way. We need to move as fast as we can, but we need to make sure we step back and do it in a thoughtful way and not be overwhelmed by the forest. I believe that we can make the necessary changes. If you’re not hopeful and think we’re going to lose this fight against global warming, then you’re going to step out of the arena, and then we will lose. And I’m not going to do that. I would rather remain in the fight then give up prematurely.
Amy Albo, a freelance writer based in Salt Lake City, Utah, is posting daily dispatches from Evolution Markets Sundance Conclave.