When the dollars make no sense • Stop making “sense-making”

Impact investing? Maybe not! • Some things we can do together

A long, long time ago Edwin Karpf, my high school social studies teacher, would frequently remind us that “Figures don’t lie, but liars can figure.” But it’s worse than that. It’s not always deceit; it’s also pervasive blindness.

Here’s a case in point: According to McKinsey, “Capital spending [for] the net-zero transition between 2021 and 2050 would amount to about $275 trillion, or $9.2 trillion per year on average, an annual increase of as much as $3.5 trillion from today.” That’s the part that makes it into the OMG headlines. The part that doesn’t make the headlines as much: “While these spending requirements are large and financing has yet to be established, many investments have positive return profiles (even independent of their role in avoiding rising physical risks) and should not be seen as merely costs.

A new factory is an investment, not a cost. A company makes its investment decisions based on its capital capacity and its anticipated ROI. Partisans who trumpet costs alone pulling the wool over people’s eyes. As Brian Hicks wrote (15 years ago!), “Quick: What’s the most common criticism of renewable energy? Right: That it’s not economical. Too expensive compared to cheap oil, coal, natural gas, and nuclear. And that’s true, if you have a calculator that can only add, and you don’t count a bunch of stuff.”

Speaking of not counting a bunch of stuff, global subsidies to the fossil fuel industry in 2022 totaled $1.3 trillion of direct subsidies in 2022, and $7 trillion including externalities and indirect subsidies (while “the global oil and gas industry’s profits in 2022 jumped to some $4 trillion from an average of $1.5 trillion in recent years,” according to the IEA). Gee, I wonder if some of the financing we need could come from there?

So what to do? Well, if you run a business, and the business depends on subsidies, then you don’t really have a business. The subsidies are risk, not value, so you’d better reinvent yourselves before the subsidies fall; because they will. (If you run a business that depends on businesses that depend on subsidies…well, you get the idea.) If you’re a person who can vote, then you damn well better vote, and vote for people who are not in thrall to the subsidized house of cards that will take us all down with it. And if you’re a person who buys anything, sells anything, invests in anything, recommends anything to others, recognize that you’re voting every day with every dollar—either for the mess we’re in or for the world you want.

(These are sketches from my books-in-progress on “getting the prices right” and “the structural defects of capital-ism.” There’ll be more of these sketches in coming issues, and posts on LinkedIn, Substack and Medium. Please follow me there.)

Here’s the video of our September 20th session of Living Between Worlds, with Grace, Dignity, and Power, where we took on current popularity of “sense-making” as a desperate impulse toward something clear and settled that just may not be available to us in these times. Have a look. And please “like!” and “subscribe!” (That trains the algorithm to treat us better.) And register to join us Wednesday October 19th as the conversation continues.

I’ve been thinking (I know, always dangerous) about “impact investing.” But in the spirit of “de-colonizing the mind” (as Caroline Casey puts it), could we please find a less aggressive, less violent, less military-metaphor term, a more regeneratively inspiring term, than “impact”? Than “to strike forcefully against something.” Whatcha got, people?


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As always, thank you for all you do.

Yours, in solidarity with life,
Gil Friend

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