June 21, 2012
From my view, U.S. legislators did not have a good day on Tuesday when conducting hearings with JP Morgan head Jamie Dimon. They didn’t seem to be able to get off on the right foot. House Representatives couldn’t decide if Mr. Dimon’s testimony really needed to be done under oath or not. Is that really important?
And, then Dimon was told not to filibuster. How’s that for the pot calling the kettle black?
Last week, during Dimon’s testimony before the Senate panel, one of the Senators said, “We lose four billion dollars (twice JPM loss) every day here in Washington.”
That’s what I call an impressive track record on Capitol Hill!
What is so alarming is that Washington still does not get it. We’ve gone through a financial crisis and an energy crisis. And, let’s not forget, still no progress on the debt and deficit issues. Yet legislators still don’t take the lead and lead. They react. The world is changing, and Washington worries about Washington and not the big issues. If Washington does care, it is not obvious to most outsiders –we, the electorate.
We ask when Washington will address two other major issues that have been discussed for decades but not acted upon: taxes and energy policy. There does not seem to be any progress on the horizon for either of these related issues.
Why do we care?
Yesterday, we took a field trip to Columbia University’s well respected Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, NY. At this campus, there is extensive research being conducted to study many global issues including land, water, and ocean concerns, and the increase in carbon emissions. There is also research being done to develop carbon capture techniques.
The good news is that on this warm, hazy summer afternoon, we met with many academics that are world leaders researching various projects; studying samples taken from thousands of locations of the oceans’ floor all over the earth, analyzing data for the cause of pluvial weather patterns (increased rainfall), or the change of carbon concentration/composition of water. Urbanization and demographic shifts along with changing weather and water patterns have caused a dramatic upheaval.
While it may appear to Main Street that these are simply academic projects as part of a homework assignment, they are actually high level, extensively researched projects that will provide data for solutions to many issues caused by climate change and growing global populations. And, they are very important for the long term sustainability of the planet!
It was obvious that the research is being conducted on a number of levels. There are extremely talented and focused undergrads, as well as grad students and post Doctoral candidates and experienced faculty all working for the same common goal: to find answers for the climate changes that are taking place.
While it is rewarding to see the progress of the earth science program at Columbia, there is a major concern that lies ahead. After the recent era of high governmental spending and grants in the renewable energy and clean tech effort, the spigot is closing. Spending at the local, state, and national level is being reduced dramatically in response to budget balancing efforts not only in the U.S., but globally. While grants will likely decline, the environmental issues will not go away.
As we look ahead, there are 3 issues that need to be highlighted:
• Increased funding must come from several new sources including foundations and endowments.
• Corporations, who understand the issues of sustainability, and are impacted by environmental degradation and expensive natural resource costs, need to step up more as well.
• We need to see corporate programs integrating and mobilizing collegiate programs into their business models.
Unfortunately, we live in a short term world. Wall Street and many companies are concerned about the next quarter’s earnings; legislators are worried about the next election. We have a longer term view, but recognize that the short termers are in charge. Even though the Newark Basin Coring Project examines sample cores drilled 20 years ago in 200 million year old lake sediment in New Jersey, the purpose was to study climate change over a long period of time. While many millennia are certainly longer than most can imagine, the wheels of research must roll on and not slow down.
For the last month, Washington and the media have been obsessed with hedging. We understand hedging; we manage a clean tech, renewable energy hedge fund of funds. We also understand speculation. Doing nothing in this case is speculation: betting the earth’s balance sheet will not change! We think that Washington should hedge by prudently providing funds for environmental research. That could be the best hedge of all.
Meanwhile, the environmental clock is ticking. Let’s not hit the snooze button. We need to swear in more supporters for the environmental effort to move forward.