It’s hard to put numbers and titles on them now, there are so many.
What was once the Great War, or “The War to End All Wars,” only two decades later became World War I with the start of World War II.
The United States then segued almost immediately into the Cold War, which, with hot flashes such as Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan, certainly merits at least a debate about whether it was World War III.
And now, for nearly 16 years, we’ve engaged in the global war on terror, which seems like a workshopped euphemism for “World War IV” to me.
So ready for yet another one?
How does the “The Great Global War on Climate Change” sound?
It’s World War V – the “Warm War.”
In an article published on Aug. 15, 2016, by The New Republic, environmentalist and author Bill McKibben argues that the next president of the United States must declare war on climate change in the same way as FDR did in 1941, when we formally threw in with the Allies and took on the Axis powers.
The mobilization before Dec. 7 as well as after that Day of Infamy constitutes one of the most intense experiments in countercyclical government spending ever conducted.
Harnessing the power of the American private industry for the massive Lend-Lease program helped feed and arm the United Kingdom, Free France, the Republic of China and the USSR. And it helped us retake control of the Pacific from the empire of Japan and simultaneously chase Hitler’s Wehrmacht across Europe.
Seventeen million new civilian jobs were created, industrial productivity increased by 96% and corporate profits after taxes doubled.
By 1944, as a result of wage increases and overtime pay, real weekly wages before taxes in manufacturing were up 50% compared with 1939.
The effort also resulted in the creation of entire new technologies, industries and associated human skills.
That war ended the Great Depression once and for all.
So of course, policymakers have replicated the model ever since. And the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned of in his Jan. 17, 1961, farewell address fits the very definition of “ubiquitous.”
(How ironic that Ike’s path to the presidency started with his appointment as supreme allied commander in Europe during World War II, the conflagration that resulted in the ascendance of the American empire.)
“It’s not that global warming is like a world war,” writes McKibben. “It is a world war. And we are losing.”
His prescription: “Defeating the Nazis required more than brave soldiers. It required building big factories, and building them really, really fast.”
That message is likely to resonate with the next president.
American scientists, McKibben explains, “have been engaged in a quiet but concerted effort to figure out how quickly existing technology can be deployed to defeat global warming,” describing these efforts as a “modest start… for a mighty Manhattan Project.”
McKibben cites research from Stanford University that concluded that each state could be powered 100% by the sun, wind and water by 2050.
That translates to approximately 6,448 gigawatts (GW) of clean energy, or the equivalent of 295 solar factories the size of SolarCity Corp.’s gigafactory under construction in Buffalo, New York.
The downside risks of global warming already factor into the investment equation.
According to a report prepared by Morgan Stanley (MS), The Investor’s Guide to Climate Change, a recent Global Investor Survey found that 81% of asset owners and 68% of asset managers viewed climate change as “a material risk or opportunity across their entire investment portfolio.”
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And The Economist Intelligence Unit has estimated “that private investors are at risk of losing $4.2 trillion between now and the turn of the next century because of a warming planet.”
Meanwhile, according to Bloomberg Business, investors with nearly $800 billion in assets have shifted money into more climate-friendly investments such as wind and solar energy.
So there’s opportunity, too. And a mini-mobilization is already underway.
Indeed, we’re going to have a new president in five months. Models incorporating polls as well as macro factors indicate a win for Hillary Clinton.
You can’t say with absolute certainty who’ll take the oath come Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, 2017.
But if I were a gambling man, I’d put my money on the Washington consensus neoliberal, the reliable caretaker of the American Empire… the statist who believes in anthropogenic climate change.
Mrs. Clinton has clearly expressed economic policy ideas redolent of “Keynesianism.” (Her rival for the White House, Donald Trump, has dismissed man-made climate change as a “hoax,” but he has also endorsed a Keynesian-style infrastructure spending spree.)
But we’re not here to debate the virtues and vices of that particular economic theory.
We’re here to understand how public policy choices will impact investment portfolios.
There are companies already engaged in the Global War on Global Warming, including small-caps SolarCity, which installs solar energy systems for homes and businesses, and First Solar Inc. and SunPower Corp., both of which produce solar panels.
Stocks of solar energy technology companies have been hammered due to the steep decline in prices for fossil-fuel commodities.
There are big-cap companies on the front lines, too, including NextEra Energy Inc., which owns the largest fleet of clean-power generating capacity in the United States.
NextEra, which continues to perform well, based on its old-school utility business model, is a conservative way to play the switch to solar, sun and hydro power.
Innovation is going to play a massive role in the effort to counter the impact of global warming. Existing solar tech companies will benefit. So will forward-looking utilities such as NextEra.
And there will be new technologies and new companies propped up by focused fiscal attention on the issue.
An effort like McKibben advocates would certainly accelerate the innovation-deployment-cost reduction cycle.
Even large companies – like “Big Blue”– can do crazy new stuff to advance the innovation ball.
As Singularity Hub reports: “Thanks to a sleek new computer chip developed by IBM, we’re one step closer to making computers work like the brain.”
The neuromorphic chip that IBM scientists have created “is made from a phase-change material commonly found in rewritable optical discs.”
This “secret sauce” enables the chip’s parts to act like neurons: “They can scale down to nanometer size and perform complicated computations rapidly with little energy.”
The full research paper, published by the journal Nature Nanotechnology on May 16, 2016, is available here.
Editorial Director, Wall Street Daily